New Ozone-Depleting Gases Discovered. Here’s What You Need to Know

By NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been years since the Montreal Protocol was signed and ratified, putting a stop on the production of several substances believed to be the cause of ozone depletion in the atmosphere. For years, the world was made to believe that the problem with CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons had already been addressed. A recent research, however, reports something on the contrary.

Four new ozone-depleting gases have been discovered in the atmosphere by researchers from the University of East Anglia. This new information is presented in the study “Newly Detected Ozone Depleting Substances in the Atmosphere,” in the journal “Nature Geoscience.” The research was funded by the UK’s Natural Environmental Research Council, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the Commonwealth of Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the European Union.

The study was conducted by chemist Dr. Johannes Laube of the University of East Anglia together with colleagues in Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

The highlights and noteworthy details of the research results are as follows:

1. The Four Damaging Gases

The four gases detected in the atmosphere are the following: three types of industrial chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and one hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC). The three chlorofluorocarbons are CFC-113A, CFC-112, and CFC-112A. Research results show that there are more than 74,000 tons of these damaging gases in the atmosphere at present, slowly depleting the ozone layer away. The levels may not be comparable to the CFCs affecting the atmosphere in the 1980’s but they will become a major problem if left unabated.

According to Dr. Paul A. Newman, a co-chairman of the scientific assessment panel for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (not involved in the research), the detection of these CFC and HCFC gases “does set off an alarm because we thought production of all CFCs had been shut down.”

2. Newly Detected Ozone-Damaging Gases Likely Man-Made

According to Dr. Johannes Laube, these four gases were not present in the atmosphere until the 1960’s, suggesting that they are all man-made. He and his team have no idea where these gases originate. However, it is believed that they could come from the production of insecticides, feedstock chemicals, and solvents used in cleaning electronic components.

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Relatively Recent Accumulation

The four ozone-damaging gases were discovered as the researchers analyzed air samples from polar firn snow and compared with air samples taken from the atmosphere. Air trapped in polar firn snow was used in investigating into the history of atmospheric compositions, in assessing gas level changes. Older air samples obtained from 1978 through 2012 were also used in the analysis. These older air samples were obtained from Cape Grim in Tasmania, a location where pollution is considered to be very low.

After the comparisons were done and the results were recorded, the researchers found that the new gases have been emitted into the atmosphere recently. According to Dr. Laube, two of the gases are accumulating in considerable amounts. He also warns that the CFCs recently detected are very slowly disintegrating or eliminated in the atmosphere, making it difficult to deal with them even if the emissions were ceased immediately. The CFCs will likely stay in the atmosphere for many decades.

4. Possible Sources of the Damaging Gases

Considering that a ban on CFCs is currently in place, it is possible that the newly detected accumulation of ozone-harming gases is coming from illegal activities. Additionally, it is also plausible that some legal agricultural manufacturing activities are responsible for the accumulation since an exemption for CFC-113A was granted for insecticide production in 2003. CFC-113A can be a byproduct in the production of pyrethroid, a common ingredient in household insecticide. Based on the research, CFC-113A levels in the atmosphere increased by 45% between 2010 and 2012.

Location-wise, what researchers have, for now, is that the sources of the ozone depleting emissions are in the Northern Hemisphere or places above the equator. This was determined based on air samples gathered by passenger jets.

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is definitely a good thing that these new ozone layer threats have been detected. The new research results should help in the crafting of laws to make sure that no further damage will take place. Getting rid of the ozone-depleting chemicals in the air will require decades so it’s vital to prevent any aggravation from happening. The 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators Report showed that Americans are not as concerned with environmental problems as people from other parts of the world. Maybe, it’s about time this has to be actively changed. An even higher level of awareness and concern needs to be promoted.