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Global Concerns Rise over the Discovery of Four New Man-Made Ozone-Damaging Chemicals in the Upper Atmosphere

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Published on : Mar 10, 2014

A new study reports the discovery of four new man-made chemicals with the capability of destroying the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. If the concentrations of these chemicals keep increasing in the atmosphere, the current rate of recovery of the ozone hole may also hamper. 

Ever since an international treaty, called the Montreal Protocol, was created in the year 1989 to significantly cut the emission of chlorofluorocarbons (the ozone-depleting chemicals that resulted in the ozone hole) by limiting its production, the hole has been gradually healing. 

In the year 2010, a complete ban on the production of CFCs was induced, but some loopholes in the Montreal Protocol allowed (and still continue to allow) use of trace amounts of CFCs in certain insecticides, solvents (used for cleaning electronic equipments) and some other products. 

Now, researchers from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom have estimated that these loopholes, which were earlier considered insignificant, have resulted in the release of more than 74,000 metric tons of three previously unknown CFCs and one similar compound called the HCFC in the atmosphere. While this quantity is far smaller than the amount of CFCs once found in the atmosphere during 1980s, the amount is still significant if we consider their potential effect on slowing the recovery of the ozone-hole.

Author’s of the report claim that even though the emissions are minor as compared to the 1980s and are not a threat yet, they can cause serious degradation to the ozone layer if the emissions continue at the same rate for a decade. Emissions of two of the compounds have accelerated in the recent years, which may also add to the global concern. 

For the research, century-old air samples trapped in old, compacted ice from Greenland were compared with the more recent air samples collected from relatively unpolluted region of Tasmania and collected between the years 1978-2012. The four new compounds detected in the recent air samples did not occur in the century-old air samples, indicating that the new compounds were indeed man-made.  

Though it is not yet clear whether the emissions are a part of the CFCs produced as a result of loopholes in the Montreal Protocol or as a result of their illegal production, this surely calls for a thorough inspection of possible sources. This also presents a good opportunity to tighten the loopholes in the treaty and save further damage at it’s earliest. 

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