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CFC smuggling threatens ozone recovery.

On Jan. 1, U.S. manufacturers ceased production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for domestic consumption in all but a few "essential" uses, such as rocket motor manufacturing. This near-phaseout of CFCs, called for by the Montreal Protocol (SN: 10/7/95, p. 238) to safeguard Earth's protective ozone layer, was supposed to mark the end of most U.S. demand for the potent, ozone-destroying pollutants. In fact, however, demand in the United States remains strong and is being satisfied by a thriving black market, according to a study published last week by the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London.

The growing illegal trade in these substances "clearly threatens the integrity of the phaseout schedules [under the Montreal Protocol] and the rate of recovery of the ozone layer," concludes Duncan Brack, author of the report. Currently, CFCs appear to be "the second most lucrative commodity smuggled through Miami, exceeded in value only by cocaine," Brack says. A major contributor to the U.S. demand, estimated at more than 20 million pounds annually, are some 100 million automotive air conditioners that depend on CFC refrigerants-and that periodically need repair. The CFC is purchased for repair shops by buyers who may not be aware that the material was imported illegally.

The illegal trade in CFCs is brisk elsewhere, too. Brack reports that up to 20 percent of all CFCs in use late last year may stem from illegal trading, including those used to repair "up to one-third of all air-conditioning and refrigerating equipment in the United Kingdom." The 2.8 million pounds of CFCs confiscated in Taiwan in 1994 may represent just 10 percent of what is being smuggled into that country, his report notes.

Although China and India have supplied some black market CFCs, Brack finds that Russia and its former republics are "a significant source of most of the illegally traded materials." His research indicates that Russian plants may be producing 60 million pounds a year more than they are reporting to the United Nations.

Not only has the Russian government taken little action to limit overproduction by these plants, Brack says, but the hard currency available for CFCs on the black market poses "a major temptation in an economy undergoing such dramatic convulsions."
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Title Annotation:chlorofluorocarbons
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 25, 1996
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