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The Ozone Mafia

Now that the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified, with even Russia belatedly signing on, a threat is emerging against an earlier landmark in international environmental protection – the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol for defending the stratospheric ozone layer. The threat comes from an unlikely source: organized crime.

The reason is simple. To protect the stratospheric ozone layer, international agreements have been reached to ban the use and trade of the ozone-destroying chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s). In order to replace these chemicals with others that are more benign, the equipment in which they are used – like freezers, coolers, and units for foam plastic production – must be substituted for new ones.

But it’s much cheaper, although forbidden, to use the old equipment and refill them with CFC’s when needed than to buy new machines and use the more environmentally benign but more costly alternatives. As with any ban, a market was thus created – and with it a business opportunity for well organized and environmentally reckless criminals.

Organized crime is constantly on the lookout for such opportunities, and it continues to find them. So it is no surprise that CFC or freon smuggling has developed without much attention, and risks jeopardizing the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol.