Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

'Ozone Friendly' Chemicals Are Polluting the Environment

Health + Wellness
Since 2017, car manufacturers in Europe and the U.S. switched to a different coolant for air conditioning called HFO-1234yf, which breaks down into forever chemicals. hiphotos35 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Montreal Protocol of 1987 committed nations around the world to stop using the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) that created a hole in the ozone layer. While it stands as one of the most effective environmental commitments the globe has seen, new research shows the side effects have been costly as chemicals dangerous to human health build up in the environment, as the BBC reported.


New research published in the journal Geographical Research Letters analyzed Arctic ice and found an unintended consequence of the Montreal Protocol. The compounds that replaced CFCs have been transported and transformed in the atmosphere, depositing far from their sources. The new generation of chemicals that replaced Freon, but are used in refrigerators, air conditioners and new cars have been accumulating since 1990.

"Our results suggest that global regulation and replacement of other environmentally harmful chemicals contributed to the increase of these compounds in the Arctic, illustrating that regulations can have important unanticipated consequences," said Cora Young, a professor at York University in Canada, and an author of the paper, in a York University statement.

Scientists first discovered ozone depletion in the 1970s when they detailed the deterioration of the stratospheric ozone layer around the earth's poles. As the hole over Antarctica opened and expanded, scientists found that the depletion of ozone was responsible for a greater intensity of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, causing an increase in the prevalence of skin cancer, eye cataract disease and other harmful effects on humans, as Courthouse News reported.

Scientists were soon able to pinpoint manufactured chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigerators, as well as solvents, propellants and chemical agents found in foam as the cause of the depleted ozone layer.

Now pollution from the chemicals that were created to replace the CFCs, known as short chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (scPFCAs), has proliferated around the world. The replacement chemicals are a class of PFAS, or forever chemicals, that have polluted waterways and made groundwater in certain areas toxic to drink.

"Our measurements provide the first long-term record of these chemicals, which have all increased dramatically over the past few decades," said Young in a statement. "Our work also showed how these industrial sources contribute to the levels in the ice caps."

The York University statement added that the chemicals are able to "travel long distances in the atmosphere and often end up in lakes, rivers and wetlands causing irreversible contamination and affecting the health of freshwater invertebrates, including insects, crustaceans and worms."

"We're seeing much, much larger levels, on the order of 10 times higher now than we saw before the Montreal Protocol," said Young, as the BBC reported. "We don't know a lot about them and their potential toxicity, but we do know that we are committing the environment to a great deal of contamination."

As the globe heats up, our desire for air conditioning increases. That has spelled trouble for new cars. When car manufacturers stopped using CFCs in a car's air-conditioner, they switched to a chemical called HFC-134a. While it did not destroy the ozone layer, it turned out to be a powerful greenhouse gas, around 1,400 times more warming than CO2, according to the BBC.

Since 2017, car manufacturers in Europe and the U.S. switched to a different coolant for air conditioning called HFO-1234yf, which breaks down into forever chemicals.

"It has a very low global warming potential, but has a much higher propensity to form these persistent products," said Young to the BBC. "It will be again another shift, where we see an even more dramatic increase."

"They've been found in the bodies of people in China, so it is likely to be found in the bodies of people around the world," added Young. "We have done a good job in trying to save the ozone layer but the unintended consequences are the release of these other chemicals, which have some concerns. They're toxic, and then they don't get filtered out in various ways."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus. blackCAT / Getty Images

By Joni Sweet

If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of burnt areas of the Amazon rainforest, near Porto Velho, Rondonia state, Brazil, on Aug. 24, 2019. CARLOS FABAL / AFP via Getty Images

NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.

Read More Show Less
A baby receives limited treatment at a hospital in Yemen on June 27, 2020. Mohammed Hamoud / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.

Read More Show Less
The 2006 oil spill was the largest incident in Philippine history and damaged 1,600 acres of mangrove forests. Shubert Ciencia / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Jun N. Aguirre

An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.

Read More Show Less
People visit Jacksonville Beach on July 4, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Public health experts have attributed Florida's growing coronavirus caseload to people gathering in crowds. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Florida broke the national record for the most new coronavirus cases reported in a single day on Sunday, with a total of 15,299.

Read More Show Less
Marco Bottigelli / Moment / Getty Images

By James Shulmeister

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Read More Show Less

Trending

Luxy Images / Getty Images

By Jo Harper

Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.

Read More Show Less