Printer Friendly

Ozone accord draws praise and concern.

Ozone accord draws praise and concern

In the wake of last week's international agreement to dramatically cut the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the world's $2.2 billion CFC-production industry is scrambling to find substitutes for these chemicals, which are used in refrigeration, foam production and the cleaning of electronic parts.

The agreement, officially called a protocol, will force a 50 percent reduction in the use of CFCs by the end of the century. And while both industry and environmental groups criticize aspects of the agreement, all involved have hailed the international treaty as a necessary step to prevent the destruction of the life-protecting ozone layer.

"I think it's a landmark achievement of historical significance,' says U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Richard E. Benedick, who headed the ozone negotiations. Benedick points out that the protocol has managed to balance a number of complex scientific, economic and geographic factors.

Environmental organizations have also lauded the agreement itself as well as the administration's strong push for CFC controls. "It's an amazing accomplishment compared to where we were as short as a year ago,' says David Doniger, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

Signed in Montreal by diplomats from 23 nations, the protocol will take effect in 1989 only after 11 countries, representing two-thirds of global CFC consumption, have ratified it. It specifically calls for an immediate freeze on the use of the most damaging CFCs at the 1986 levels of consumption. In 1994, protocol signers must reduce consumption by 20 percent, and by 1999 they must cut CFC use to half their 1986 levels. The protocol also freezes but does not reduce the consumption of halons, a more destructive but less prevalent class of chlorine chemicals.

Trade provisions in the protocol encourage countries to sign the agreement by prohibiting the importation of CFCs and products containing CFCs from countries that have not signed. The protocol also provides slightly loosened consumption limits for developing nations.

Amid the praise, however, are voices of concern. Donifer cautions that the proposed reductions will slow but not stop the gradual accumulation of long-lived CFCs in the stratosphere and calls the protocol "a major half-step forward.'

Scientists are finding evidence that chlorine from CFCs and halons is actively destroying stratospheric ozone both on the global scale and--most dramatically --at the poles (SN: 9/19/87, p.182). Computer models have shown that an 85 percent reduction in CFC and halon use is needed to simply stabilize the stratospheric levels of such chemicals. So even with the 50 percent reductions, says atmospheric scientist Michael Oppenheimer, chlorine might erode 1 to 2 percent of the ozone layer, thereby increasing the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the ground. Oppenheimer, of the Environmental Defense Fund in New York City, says this increase in radiation might amount to an extra several hundred thousand skin cancer cases in the United States by the year 2025, as well as significant damage to plant and animal life.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the CFC industry also praises the diplomatic community for reaching a protective agreement. However, says Kevin Fay, director of the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy in Washington, D.C., "it goes much farther than anything we think is necessary.' Members of the CFC industry think that both the schedule and scale of the reductions are too stringent and do not provide adequate time for the industry to find suitable substitutes for CFCs and halons.

Nonflammable, noncorrosive and nontoxic, these chemicals seemed ideal in almost every sense. They are just too stable in the lower atmosphere, and rise into the ozone layer before releasing their destructive chlorine. The production industry is now looking at CFCs that either lack chlorine altogether or break up in the lower atmosphere.

Several less destructive CFCs are currently on the market and could serve as replacements in a limited number of situations, says Fay. Other substitutes, including the nonchlorinated CFCs, are still in development and will not reach the market for five to seven years.

However, all CFC users may not be able to find replacement chemicals. Says Fay, "the solvents industry and [others] who use [CFC] 113 are very concerned because there really are no substitutes on the horizon.' With CFC 113 and the halons, says Fay, the answer to the upcoming limitations may lie in efficient recycling.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Science Service, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Monastersky, R.
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 26, 1987
Previous Article:Heirs to ancient air: scientists hope to study the delicate contents of a 4,600-year-old chamber without ever disturbing what rests inside.
Next Article:Psychiatric side-effects of interleukin-2.

Related Articles
EPA estimates major long-term ozone risks.
The ozone hole, dynamically speaking.
U.S., Soviets to study Antarctic ozone.
Flying into ozone hole.
Antarctic ozone reaches lowest levels.
International CFC limits to take effect.
Europe to ban CFCs by 2000.
Call for stronger ozone protection.
Ozone concerns prompt phaseout fury.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters