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HCFCs: banned before their time?

When President George Bush recently called for U.S. manufacturers to stop using most ozone-depleting chemicals by the end of 1995--four years earlier than required by 1990 amendments to the Montreal Protocol--few were shocked. Most makers of foamed plastics already plan to eliminate CFCs by 1993. However, a schedule for eliminating the less ozone-damaging HCFCs was left open, as the President requested further study of their environmental effects and only hinted at the possibility of accelerating their elimination.

Now a proposal that would curtail the use of these substitutes by 2005 has some in industry concerned. Under that plan, which the EPA was scheduled to make public late last month, most production of HCFC-22, HCFC-141b and HCFC-142b would cease by 2005. Under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the President and EPA can accelerate the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances without new legislation. Until now, the signers of the 1990 Montreal Protocol amendments had resolved to work toward eliminating HCFCs by 2020 if possible, 2040 at the latest. The Clean Air Act mandates their removal by 2030. EPA is expected to issue a final rule on CFC substitutes later this year.

EPA's newly proposed dates for HCFC elimination worry manufacturers and trade groups who fear there may not be enough time to develop workable replacements. But environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth argue that EPA's proposed guidelines will give suppliers ample time to develop alternatives to HCFCs. They have asked the agency to move the phase-out dates ahead to 2000 for most HCFC uses, including foam blowing agents.


The Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy in Arlington, Va., a coalition of CFC/HCFC producers and users, agrees with the President's CFC phase-out schedule but wants EPA's timetable for HCFC elimination pushed back to Jan. 1, 2010 for use in new products and Jan. 1, 2020 for a total ban.

While many in industry feel the Alliance dates are more reasonable and allow greater hope that HCFC replacements would be developed in time, some say the schedule is likely to be accelerated even more than the pending EPA proposal, just as the CFC phase-out deadlines have been moved up bit by bit. Consequently, they are hustling to develop alternatives to HCFCs.

But while those chemicals are being created, suppliers are banking on HCFC foaming agents to carry them through. In the short run, HCFC-141b may spell relief for urethane foamers. That compound is nearing completion of an EPA toxicity testing program and is expected to fill every market now served by CFCs, including foams for building insulation and home appliances. The consensus among polyurethane industry observers is that HCFC-141b will be available by spring 1993. But in the long run, most agree, the key to CFC replacement will be compounds with zero ozone-depletion potential, such as HFC-134a.

Jared Blum, president of the Polyisocyanurate Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C., is among a handful of industry insiders who see no problems with the EPA's proposed schedule for an accelerated HCFC phaseout. "Industry has usually been able to meet the challenges presented to it as long as the politics and science are on the same schedule," he says. "I'm very confident that the work the suppliers are doing will yield a third-generation chemical with zero ozone-depletion potential by that time."
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Title Annotation:hydrochlorofluorocarbons
Author:Monks, Richard
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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