China’s foam-blowing industry has been identified as the source of a dramatic increase in the ozone-destroying CFC-11 chemical, despite a worldwide ban on the production and use of that chemical, a new environmental report has revealed.
An investigation carried out by the UK-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that 18 companies in 10 Chinese provinces confirmed their use of CFC-11 for making foams used to insulate buildings and appliances.
The report, titled “Blowing It: Illegal Production and Use of Banned CFC-11 in China’s Foam Blowing Industry,” said that “detailed discussions with company executives (in China) make clear these are not isolated incidents but common practice throughout the industry.
“Producers and traders of polyurethane foam blowing agent repeatedly told EIA sources that the majority of China’s foam industry continues to use CFC-11 due to its better quality and lower price.”
Some companies appear to produce CFC-11 themselves. But traders were also supplied by factories in undisclosed locations, the EIA said.
Several companies also referred to the ease with which CFC-11 could be exported in the pre-blended polyol compound used to make the foams, it added.
This comes in the wake of “shocking evidence showing significant and unexplained emissions of the ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11 in the atmosphere”, said EIA.
In May 2018 scientists revealed that atmospheric levels of CFC-11, a potent ozone depleting substance banned since 2010, were significantly higher than expected, leading them to conclude that new illegal production and use of CFC-11 was occurring in East Asia.
Traders and buyers of CFC-11 in China estimated that it is used in the majority of China’s rigid PU foam sector.
EIA’s calculations show that emission estimates associated with the level of use reported by these companies can explain the majority of emissions identified in the atmospheric study. In addition there is significant potential for illegal international trade in CFC-11 containing pre-formulated polyols for foam manufacturing in other countries.
“Several companies acknowledged the illegality of their actions and explained that it was used because it was cheaper and made more effective foams,” the report continued.
THE EIA report concluded by saying that “China has a significant compliance issue to address which requires an immediate clampdown on illegal production and use of CFC-11, along with policy reform and effective intelligence-led enforcement” and that the “scale of the compliance issue is such that it cannot be treated as a series of isolated incidents.”