Unexpected nascent atmospheric emissions of three ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 118, Issue 5, p.e2010914118 (2021)




We demonstrate the need to detect and track unexpected substances in the atmosphere and to locate their sources. Here, we report on three hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that have no known end-uses. HCFC-132b (CH2ClCClF2) is newly discovered in the global atmosphere. We identify East Asia as the dominant source region for global emissions of this compound and of HCFC-133a (CH2ClCF3). We also quantify global emissions of HCFC-31 (CH2ClF). These compounds are most likely emitted as intermediate by-products of chemical production processes. The early discovery and identification of such unexpected emissions can identify the related industrial practices and help to develop and manage environmental policies to reduce unwanted and potentially harmful emissions before the scale of the problem becomes more costly to mitigate.Global and regional atmospheric measurements and modeling can play key roles in discovering and quantifying unexpected nascent emissions of environmentally important substances. We focus here on three hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that are restricted by the Montreal Protocol because of their roles in stratospheric ozone depletion. Based on measurements of archived air samples and on in situ measurements at stations of the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) network, we report global abundances, trends, and regional enhancements for HCFC-132b (CH2ClCClF2), which is newly discovered in the atmosphere, and updated results for HCFC-133a (CH2ClCF3) and HCFC-31 (CH2ClF). No purposeful end-use is known for any of these compounds. We find that HCFC-132b appeared in the atmosphere 20 y ago and that its global emissions increased to 1.1 Gg⋅y−1 by 2019. Regional top-down emission estimates for East Asia, based on high-frequency measurements for 2016–2019, account for ∼95% of the global HCFC-132b emissions and for ∼80% of the global HCFC-133a emissions of 2.3 Gg⋅y−1 during this period. Global emissions of HCFC-31 for the same period are 0.71 Gg⋅y−1. Small European emissions of HCFC-132b and HCFC-133a, found in southeastern France, ceased in early 2017 when a fluorocarbon production facility in that area closed. Although unreported emissive end-uses cannot be ruled out, all three compounds are most likely emitted as intermediate by-products in chemical production pathways. Identification of harmful emissions to the atmosphere at an early stage can guide the effective development of global and regional environmental policy.In situ measurements of HCFC-132b and HCFC-133a from the AGAGE stations are available through the AGAGE website (https://agage.mit.edu/). Measurements of the samples collected in flasks, such as for archived air, Antarctica and Dübendorf (HCFC-31), and model results, are accessible through https://zenodo.org (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.4266485).