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Banned Ozone-Harming Gas Creeps Back, Suggesting a Mystery Source

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Government scientists have detected an increase in emissions of an outlawed industrial gas that destroys ozone, potentially slowing progress in restoring the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer.

The scientists say that the increase is likely a result of new, unreported production of the gas, known as CFC-11, probably in East Asia. Global production of CFC-11, which has been used as a refrigerant and in insulating foams, has been banned since 2010 under an environmental pact, the Montreal Protocol.

The protocol was adopted in the late 1980s in response to studies that showed CFC-11 and similar gases, collectively known as chlorofluorocarbons, depleted atmospheric ozone. A layer of ozone in the stratosphere helps filter ultraviolet radiation from the sun that can cause skin cancer.

The Montreal Protocol, often hailed as the most successful international environmental agreement ever enacted, has led to declines in chlorofluorocarbons and an increase in stratospheric ozone. A full recovery of the ozone layer was expected by midcentury.

But if the emissions of CFC-11 continue, recovery could be delayed by about a decade, said Stephen A. Montzka, the lead author of a report detailing the findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“We’re raising the flag to say, look, this is not what we hope happens for the ozone layer,” said Dr. Montzka, a research chemist at the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

David Doniger, director of the climate and clean energy program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington, said the new emissions were “bad for the ozone layer and bad for climate change.”

“It’s worrisome that someone’s cheating,” he said.

But Mr. Doniger noted that the Montreal Protocol, which has been signed by nearly 200 countries, has a strong track record of compliance, with countries often reporting their own violations. “There’s a reasonable chance we’ll figure out what’s happening here,” he said.

Keith Weller, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, which helps implement the protocol, said the findings would be presented to the parties to the agreement for review. “It is critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action,” he said.

Although CFC-11 and similar gases have been banned for years, they still leak in small amounts into the atmosphere, largely as buildings and equipment containing insulating foams are demolished or destroyed. CFC-11 has a lifetime of about 50 years, so


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