Investigators Expose Smuggling of Ozone Depleting Chemicals

LONDON, United Kingdom, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - There is evidence of a thriving illegal trade in CFCs and other ozone depleting substances across Asia, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed today. This has been identified as part of a "dramatic increase" in smuggling across developing countries, by the independent, international campaigning organization that investigates and exposes environmental crime.

The illegal trade in ozone depleting substances is undermining the global effort to phase out these chemicals under the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty to limit destruction of the Earth's ozone layer. The EIA report is timed to coincide with the meeting next week in Colombo, Sri Lanka of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

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Transporting canisters of ozone depleting chemicals in Biratniga, Nepal (Photos by Ezra Clark courtesy Environmental Investigation Agency)
EIA investigations shows that hundreds of tons of illegal ozone depleting substances are smuggled into India each year. Between early 1999 and March 2000 more than 800 tons of ozone depleting substances were smuggled into India, totalling 12 percent of national consumption.

EIA research shows that much of this is smuggled through "Nepalís porous border crossings." Nepalís official annual consumption under the Montreal Protocol is only 50 tons, yet between January 1999 and June 2000 Nepal imported more than 422 tons of ozone depleting substances. EIA documentation shows that much of this originally transits in through India and is then turned around and smuggled back to India.

The EIA investigators have documented similar activities in Bangladesh. In Calcutta, India, a recent seizure obtained 281 illegal cylinders of CFCs and HCFCs smuggled from Bagladesh. In Malaysia, authorities recently seized four containers containing 4,600 cylinders of CFCs.

Julian Newman, senior campaigner for EIA, said, ďThere must be swift action to end this disturbing rise in illegal trade, or the success of the Montreal Protocol is in serious jeopardy. While this black market exists, it is undermining the market for alternatives and threatening to encourage illicit production."

"Developing countries such as India have made some significant seizures but their enforcement agencies are often under-resourced," said Newman. Under the Montreal Protocol, developing countries such as India and Nepal have to meet a series of deadlines to phase out ozone depleting substances by 2010.

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Canisters of ozone depleting substances seized in India (Photo courtesy EIA)
EIA is calling for the international co-operation and the creation of an Illegal Trade Prevention Task Force within the Montreal Protocol to bolster their efforts. "We must ensure that the ozone layer is given every chance to recover or the consequences will be catastrophic," said Newman.

The Montreal Protocol was agreed on January 1, 1987 and is now ratified by 176 countries, of which about 130 are developing countries. Under the Montreal Protocol and its amendments, ozone-depleting substances are to be reduced and eliminated through the development of chemical substitutes and alternative manufacturing processes. Elimination is the final objective. Phase out should be complete by 2010.

Damage to the ozone layer caused by chemicals like CFCs and other ozone depleting substances allow higher amounts of ultraviolet radiation, particularly the shorter wavelength UV-B, to reach the Earthís surface, causing skin cancers, cataracts and weakening of the immune system, and damage to plants and wildlife.

The ozone layer is currently at its most fragile state, with a record ozone hole recorded over Antarctica last year. The largest and most severe Antarctic ozone depletion to date was recorded in September 2000.

The main groups of chemicals are covered by the Montreal Protocol are: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs), bromochloromethane, and methyl bromide.