MADRID (ICIS)--Chinese authorities are undertaking inspections on chemical producers to find out if they are using the internationally-banned, ozone-damaging chemical trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), which can be used to produce polyurethane (PU)-based insulation products.
On 9 July, UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that its investigations showed evidence of CFC-11 use in Chinese chemical plants.
The environmental campaigner started its investigation after “shocking” evidence of CFC-11 emissions in China.
CFC-11 is internationally banned under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer that was agreed in 1987.
An official at China’s Shandong provincial environment protection bureau confirmed to ICIS that the bureau is undertaking inspections following the EIA’s report, in which specific chemical producers were mentioned.
The official added that its inspectors had collected samples of products for testing, although could not disclose when the conclusions of the investigation would be published.
The EIA’s report added that Chinese producers and traders have told its researches the use of the chemical was “common practice” throughout the PU industry.
“EIA obtained evidence from 18 different companies in 10 Chinese provinces, confirming their use of CFC-11 as a blowing agent for the manufacture of foams utilised to insulate buildings and appliances,” said the group.
“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.”
One of the companies mentioned in the EIA report also confirmed to ICIS it had been subject to on-site inspections from the Shandong local environment bodies.
The source said up to 30 inspectors have been checking the company’s facilities and tested, on site, more than 20 products, without finding any sign of CFC-11 use.
This source, however, confirmed that CFC-11 is being used by some producers.
The same line came from global chemical majors like France’s Arkema. This company produces CFC-11 replacements, although is not present in the Chinese foam market, and a spokesperson confirmed to ICIS the company had knowledge about the extensive use of the banned chemical.
“We are aware of illegal CFC-11 production in China and we condemn these practices,” it said.
The EIA report went on to say that some Chinese producers manufacture CFC-11 themselves, while others were supplied by factories in undisclosed locations.
Several companies also reported that exports of CFC-11-containing PU out of China was common.
“If China doesn’t stop this illegal production, it will imperil our slowly healing ozone layer. CFC-11 is also a super global warmer, making this a serious threat for our climate as well,” said Alexander von Bismarck, EIA’s executive director in the US.
German chemical major BASF, with important operations in China and a producer of PU, told ICIS that it does not use CFC-11 in any of its facilities around the world.
The company fell short, however, of saying if it had knowledge of CFC-11 use in China.
Asked whether BASF was at a competitive disadvantage to other PU producers using CFC-11, reducing their costs, the company said: “It does not put us at a disadvantage with competitors who adhere to good environmental practices.
“We live our corporate purpose ‘We create chemistry for a sustainable future’,” said a spokesperson.
Pictured: Ozone layer hole in September 2000
Additional reporting by Fanny Zhang