Film>> Ozone Killers directed by Heinz Greuling and Thomas Weidenbach

By Rashid Parker
Published: Monday 15 June 2009

Many today talk about crimes against nature in the same breath as arms and drug smuggling. The film, Ozone Killers, is about a problem that many believed was taken care of long time ago. It shows how wrong the assumption was.

In 1987 the Montreal Protocol banned the production of cfcs (chlorofluorocarbons) for use as propellants and coolants. These chemicals are considered to be the main cause of the destruction of the protective ozone layer in the Earth's atmosphere.

The Montreal Protocol was seen as the most successful environmental protection agreement ever reached. But a black market for cfcs produced in developing countries has sprung up in Europe.

The film takes us to one site of production of cfcs: tti factory at an undisclosed location. Usually the cfcs are sold to perfectly legal brokers. However, these brokers pass them on to less legitimate businesses. Hidden among other goods, they go undetected across borders and make a smooth entry into a number of Western countries.

Staged as an absorbing thriller that features the real investigators, the documentary recreates a lot of the dynamics of this "eco-crime". It takes us to the factories, identifies the middlemen and explores the black markets. But it merely hints at the real problem: cheap cfcs provide an easy fix for consumers reliant on outdated technologies.

Although industry had eliminated cfcs from spray cans and solvents by the 1980s, it took longer to find alternative coolants. Thus, old air conditioners and refrigerators that still use cfcs will eventually have to be retrofitted to use ozone-friendly compounds. As the pool of recycled cfcs dwindles, prices should rise, spurring the technology shift. But illegally imported cfcs undercut this market.

Rashid Parker is a journalist based in Singapore

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