(IPS) WASHINGTON --
companies have agreed to
re-label refrigerators originally described as "ozone-friendly" to
settle a lawsuit brought by two environmental groups.
The four companies -- Amana, General Electric, Sears Roebuck and Whirlpool -- claim their refrigerators are ozone-friendly because they do not contain any ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Three months ago, however, the Environmental Law Foundation and Ozone Action filed a lawsuit in a San Francisco court challenging those claims. The groups argued that the refrigerators were using hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which have about a quarter of the impact of CFCs on the Earth's ozone layer.
The companies made the switch from CFCs to HCFCs to comply with the Montreal protocol -- an international treaty signed in 1985 -- that calls for the gradual phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals.
An estimated 5-10,000 tons of CFC are smuggled in from countries like India, Greece, Poland and Russia every year
treaty was based on the 1974 discovery by Sherwood Rowland,
a California scientist, that CFCs were destroying the protective
layer of ozone that surrounds the Earth, shielding it from the
Sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. The radiation can cause skin
diseases and a variety of other ailments.
Depletion of the ozone layer is becoming increasingly serious, according to recent reports. The World Meteorological Organization reported in September that the seasonal "hole" that opens up in ๔he ozone layer over Antarctic at winter's end was the twice the previous year's size -- roughly the area of Europe.
Under the settlement, the four manufacturers agreed to label their models as "significantly less ozone depleting" than models with CFCs beginning Jan. 1. That is the same day which, under the Montreal Protocol, the United States and other developed countries must stop producing CFCs.
They will also donate 100,000 dollars for research into ozone depletion which will go to the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
Jubilant Environmental Law Foundation and Ozone Action activists announced that they would file a new lawsuit against Maytag and Sanyo, which still manufacture full-sized refrigerators using CFCs.
Washington-based Ozone Action says there are substitutes which have no ozone impact. For example, Sweden's Electrolux and Bosch Siemens of Germany sell refrigerators that use natural gases like cyclopentane. These chemicals are cheap but do not allow the refrigerators to defrost.
Over five million such refrigerators have been sold in Australia, China, Europe and Japan. They have only recently become available in Argentina and India but have not yet been marketed in the United States.
"The choice is between harming your children and having a fridge that does not defrost. But you can't have consumer pressure for an alternative unless you have fair advertising," says John Passacantando, director of Ozone Action.
That group recently disclosed that the Montreal protocol was not working properly because of a new black market in CFCs.
"Miami ice" is the name that the activists gave to smuggled containers of CFCs, which the groups say have now become the second largest illegal import into the port of Miami after cocaine.
Government spies working on a covert operation called "Operation Cool Breeze" discovered that an estimated five to ten thousand tons of clandestine CFC are being smuggled in from countries like India, Greece, Poland and Russia every year.
Some companies which claim to have phased out CFCs have actually shifted production to other countries
consumption in countries like India and Russia lags far
behind production, so manufacturers seek to export these chemicals
to other countries, including the United States.
Importers here are required to pay U.S. Customs $11.77 per kilogram brought into the country. By smuggling the CFCs into the country, they can avoid $172 in taxes on every 13.5 kilogram cylinder they bring in.
Researcher Jim Valette, who prepared the report for Ozone Action, says that the cylinders are typically shipped via Britain to the port of New York en route to a supposed Latin American or Caribbean destination.
These cylinders travel by rail from New York to Miami where they are supposed to be shipped to their listed destination. But, in fact, many containers simply disappear.
CFC smuggling made it back into the news last month when the United States asked Costa Rica to extradite former Miami resident Bruce Burrell who was arrested in San Jose for allegedly trying to smuggle 19,000 cylinders of CFCs into the U.S.
This marks "the first international extradition effort by U.S. prosecutors for a fugitive charged with an environmental crime," according to federal officials. If convicted, the two could face more than 700 years in prison and $28 million in fines.
Ozone Action also recently reported that some companies which claim to have phased out CFCs, including France's Elf Atochem, have actually shifted production to Venezuela and other countries where they are not required to cut back until after the year 2005 under the more lenient provisions in the Montreal Protocol for developing nations.
And Dupont, the world's largest CFC manufacturer, continues to store CFCs for sale in future years when the price of the chemical is expected to rise further.
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