Earlier this year, scientists could not figure out why an illegal, ozone-killing chemical had suddenly resurfaced in a big way. Now, a report released Monday by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency has identified the culprit: cheap insulation made in China. The EIA found that lots of Chinese manufacturers are adding the chemical CFC-11 to foam insulation—the stuff that gets blown into houses—even though it was banned in 2010. Investigators found that no fewer than 18 companies were adding CFC-11, known scientifically as trichlorofluoromethane, to their product, reports the Guardian. If the practice goes unchecked, scientists say it could delay the recovery of the ozone hole by a decade. The discovery did not take in-depth chemical sleuthing: The investigators simply asked, and the openness of the responses disturbed them.
"We were absolutely gobsmacked to find that companies very openly confirmed using CFC-11 while acknowledging it was illegal," the EIA's Avipsa Mahapatra tells the BBC. "The fact that they were so blasé about it, the fact that they told us very openly how pervasive it is in the market." So now what? The report has been sent to the Chinese government as proof that Beijing is in violation of the landmark Montreal Protocol set up to protect the ozone. China could theoretically be subject to sanctions, but the more realistic outcome is that Beijing will be urged by the UN to crack down on the factories using CFC-11. The report's release coincides with a meeting of MP delegates in Vienna. “This week will be a critical moment for dialogue, resolve and action," says a UN environmental official. (China may no longer have the world's worst air pollution.)