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Scientists find four new man-made gases that harm ozone layer

Ozone occurs naturally in the atmosphere, but is depleted by man-made chemicals
Ozone occurs naturally in the atmosphere, but is depleted by man-made chemicals
NASA (public domain)

A team of scientists from University of East Anglia in England have found four new man-made chemicals that harm the ozone layer, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The findings identify three new CFC's and one new HCFC (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons). The scientists analyzed samples collected in both Tasmania and Greenland, and showed all four compounds began to appear in the atmosphere during the 1960's. Two compounds continue to increase in the atmosphere, today. Total emissions are about 74,000 tonnes, which the scientists say are a fraction of the other ozone destroying chemicals that were formerly emitted into the atmosphere.

There is a possibility these chemicals are illegal. The 1987 Montreal Protocol bans a wide range of ozone destroying chemicals, but there are loopholes into which these specific chemicals may fit. Lead author of the study, Johannes Laube, told Reuters "We hope to tighten the loopholes." Even if the chemicals do fit into a Montreal Protocol loophole, they go against the intent of that agreement.

Until now 13 CFC and HCFC chemicals were known to harm the ozone layer. The four new chemicals bring the total to 17, and there may be others. Laube told the Guardian "There are definitely more out there. We have already picked up dozens more. They might well add up to dangerous levels, especially if we keep finding more." The team is already working to analyze the samples to discover more chemicals.

In addition to damaging the ozone layer, these chemicals are potent greenhouse gases, thousands of times more potent than CO2.

The atmosphere's ozone layer filters out some harmful components in sunlight which can cause skin cancer and eye cataracts. The ozone layer has been recovering since a 1987 worldwide ban on known ozone damaging chemicals such as CFC's (ChloroFluoroCarbons) that were formerly used in refrigerants.

Concentrations of one of the new chemicals, CFC113a, is rising at an alarming rate. Even though its concentration is low now, scientists expect it to become a major concern in a few years.