European Commission seeks new curbs on HCFCs, methyl bromide

New controls on HCFCs, including a ban on their use in all refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) equipment from 2008, are included in a revision of the 1994 EC Regulation on ozone-depleting substances prepared by the European Commission. The draft would also oblige Member States to set up qualification schemes for refrigeration engineers with a view to minimising leaks of ozone depleters during equipment servicing.

Stricter controls on HCFCs - which have lower ozone depletion potentials than CFCs and are transitional substitutes for them - were first proposed last year by the Commission's Environment Directorate, DGXI, in the face of opposition from European producers (ENDS Report 273, pp 39-40 ).

Most of these proposals, plus restrictions on other ozone-depleting substances including methyl bromide, CFCs and halons, have been retained in the final draft, with some important changes:

  • HCFCs: The phase-out schedule and "cap" on consumption, together with the restrictions on use for RAC and solvent applications, are unchanged. However, HCFC manufacturers have succeeded in extending the final deadline for banning the use of HCFCs in foam blowing by one year to 2004. Under the new provisions, use in the production of integral skin, polyethylene and most polyurethane foams would end in 2000. Use in extruded polystyrene would be banned from 2002 and in polyurethane discontinuous panels from 2003 - except where these are used for insulated transport.

    In addition to controls on the consumption and use of HCFCs within the EC, exports would be banned to any country which is not a party to the global Montreal Protocol on protection of the ozone layer.

    Production controls on HCFCs would also be introduced for the first time, reflecting the Commission's "determination to take a leading role in this respect," with a phase-out timetable in line with that for HCFC consumption under the Protocol. Output would be frozen at last year's level from 2000, then cut to 40% of that figure from 2008, 25% from 2014, 15% from 2020, 5% from 2025 and 1% from 2030, with a final phase-out in 2040. Before the end of 2002, the Commission would decide whether to propose bringing forward the first production cut to before 2008.

    Europe's main HCFC producer, Elf Atochem, has warned that introducing production controls in the EC when none exist elsewhere will merely transfer supply to the USA and Japan, or force the "regulatory delocalisation" of its subsidiaries - presumably meaning it will move its own production out of the EC.

  • Methyl bromide: According to the Commission's preamble to the draft, "the growing availability of alternatives to methyl bromide - used mainly as a soil and crop fumigant - should be reflected in an accelerated phase-out.compared to the Montreal Protocol." This requires developed countries to end their consumption by 2005.

    As in last year's proposals, the 25% cut in production by 1998 based on 1991 levels would be followed by a total production ban from the beginning of 2001, with each Member State free to compile a list of "critical use" exemptions after this date. These would be reviewed annually, rather than every two years. The draft would also ban the sale and use of methyl bromide from the same date. As with HCFCs, exports to states which are not parties to the Protocol would be prohibited.

  • CFCs and halons: The effectiveness of the EC's controls on ozone depleters has been undermined by imports of virgin CFCs from Russia claimed to be recycled material. In response, the Commission has proposed a ban on the marketing and use of CFCs, together with carbon tetrachloride, halons, 1,1,1-trichloroethane and HBFCs. The ban would apply as soon as the draft Regulation came into force, which is expected to be sometime in 2000. Exemptions would apply to material used as feedstock or processing agents, meeting "essential uses" or which is destroyed within the EC by an approved technology.

    A further significant exemption, for halons, would allow their use in fire protection systems until 2005, or to meet demand for use in critical applications.

  • Export controls: Authorisations from the Commission would be required for exports of any controlled substances. This would bring the EC into compliance with last year's amendments to the Montreal Protocol which established a licensing system for all countries for trade in ozone-depleting substances (ENDS Report 272, p 44 ).

  • Leakages: Member States are currently obliged to take "all precautionary measures" to prevent leakages of ozone depleters from commercial and industrial RAC equipment, fire protection systems and equipment containing solvents. The draft Regulation would require them to define the minimum qualification requirements for servicing personnel, and report to the Commission by the end of 2000 on the schemes they had established. However, a similar qualification scheme for the recovery of ozone depleters from equipment during servicing, or before its dismantling and disposal, remains optional.

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