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Black market in gases could flourish warns agency

A BLACK market in banned ozone-depleting gases could thrive after the Europe-wide phase-out, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has warned.
At a recent summit in Brussels, customs and ozone officers from across Europe met with representatives from the chemicals industry, the World Customs Organisation, the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme, to discuss the growing threat of illegal trade in ozone depleting substances.

Under revised EC regulations only reclaimed and recovered HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) will be permitted when servicing equipment after January 1, 2010. Experts from the chemicals industry fear many European companies are unprepared for the ban on the use of virgin HCFCs.

'The sense of urgency among end users is low due to two factors - confusing deadlines, coupled with the false hope that reclaimed HCFCs will be plentiful and easy to obtain. Users should immediately plan to retrofit /refit their installations to use alternatives or accelerate their transition plans to new systems' said Pascal Faidy, DuPont's head of European sales and marketing.

A 2005 survey commissioned by the Carbon Trust found that 70% of UK firms have at least one refrigeration or air-conditioning system running on HCFCs, indicating that demand is high. Once virgin HCFCs are banned in 2010, there may be a temptation to mislabel them as recovered HCFC.

Large seizures of illegally smuggled HCFCs have already begun to occur in the United States. In October, customs and border protection officers in South Carolina intercepted 11,400 cylinders of HCFC-22 with a domestic value of close to $1 million.

The EIA is concerned that the stage is set for a repetition of the illegal smuggling of CFCs which occurred in Europe during the late nineties. Despite strict regulations in Europe, demand for CFCs remained high. EIA investigations at the time discovered large quantities of contraband CFCs were being smuggled into Europe from China, where CFCs were freely and cheaply available.

'Europe needs to learn from past errors by tightening up enforcement of ODS imports and carrying out an accurate assessment of current HCFC stockpiles' said Julian Newman, EIA campaigns director.

The Brussels summit also highlighted the need for better communication between enforcement officers and chemical companies in the fight against illegal trade.

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