The U.S. division of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an NGO based in Washington, D.C., released on October 10 a new report asserting that climate-damaging, ozone-depleting and PFAS-producing f-gases are being emitted from two fluorochemical production facilities, operated by Honeywell and Chemours in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Corpus Christi, Texas, respectively.
EIA said its investigators used a “cutting-edge infrared detection device” at the fencelines of these facilities, finding emissions of high-GWP HFCs, ozone-depleting and high GWP CFCs, and HFOs, which are linked to PFAS (per- and polyfluoralkyl substances).
The report also indicated that “several of the CFCs and HFCs detected have not been reported by the Honeywell facility in recent years of mandatory greenhouse gas and toxic substances reporting, suggesting that the company may be unaware of the emissions or failing to report them.”
The report, “F-Gases at the Fenceline: Exposing the Fluorochemical Production Sector’s Undisclosed Emissions,” has received national and global attention in an article in the Washington Post.
The global Montreal Protocol treaty as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have banned emissions of CFCs and are in the process of phasing out HFCs. Last week, the EPA released its “Technology Transitions” rule regulating the use of HFCs in specific sectors, and the EU announced an agreement to strengthen its F-gas Regulation.
“Our evidence is damning: fluorochemical production continues to spew significant avoidable emissions, often undisclosed, despite control measures,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director at EIA US. “This industry, culpable for creating a hole in our ozone layer, continues to profit at a massive cost to our climate. It behooves companies to step up, contain their chemicals leaking into our atmosphere or step out of this industry.”
She continued, “We have only scratched the surface of a colossal global problem of unaccounted emissions, equivalent to annual emissions of 200 coal plants, that has vexed the scientific community and the Montreal Protocol, now striving to improve global attribution of these gases.”
In its new report, EIA said it detected the gases “at parts per million levels at distances at least several hundred feet from the source of emissions,” which “indicates that the actual volumes are likely to be substantial.” Analysis of reported emissions also showed rising levels of CFC emissions from the facilities in recent years, the NGO added.
“It is imperative that the United States and global community take action to avoid industrial emissions from fluorochemical production,” said Christina Starr, Senior Manager, EIA US. “We must enhance monitoring and reporting and expand Montreal Protocol and domestic control measures to address production emissions. Otherwise this chemical nightmare threatens the success of the treaty and our climate goals.”
The key findings in the EIA report include the following:
- Multiple substances detected in this case study are associated with rising global emissions identified in recent atmospheric studies that link fluorochemical production and/or illegal production and use as the primary source of approximately 870 million tonnes (metric tons) of CO2 equivalent in emissions on an annual basis.
- Several CFCs were detected at one production facility operated by Honeywell in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Findings included CFC-13, for which the facility reported zero emissions from 2019-2021, as well as CFC-113 and CFC-114. Rising CFC emissions have been reported by the facility in recent years.
- A suite of HFCs were also detected at the Honeywell Baton Rouge facility including HFC-32, HFC-125, HFC-143a, and HFC-134a, some of which were not reported by the facility in mandatory greenhouse gas reporting from 2018-2022 (US GHGRP). HFC-125 and HFC-143a, detected by EIA in 2022, were not reported by the facility in 2022. HFC-32 and HFC-134a, detected in 2023, were not reported in earlier years of reporting from 2018-2022. It is not clear why these chemicals are being detected yet absent from facility reporting.
- Several HFOs and an HCFO were detected: HFO-1234yf was detected at a facility operated by Chemours near Corpus Christi, Texas. HCFO-1233zd and HFO-1234ze were detected at the Honeywell facility; in each case these are end products manufactured at the respective facilities. While HFOs, which are produced using HCFC-22, have low direct climate impacts, they are considered to be PFAS and can degrade into persistent by-products. HFO-1234yf, in particular, produces high yields of trifluoroacetic acid, which is a strong acid that can be toxic to aquatic organisms, plants, and humans.
Chemical industry response
Requests by R744.com for comment from Honeywell and Chemours were not immediately answered. In the Washington Post article, Honeywell spokesman Mike Hockey was quoted as saying in an email: “Honeywell complies with and provides air quality reporting as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. We are committed to greenhouse gas reduction and have pledged to become carbon neutral at our facilities and operations.”
The Washington Post quoted Chemours spokeswoman Cassie Olszewski as saying in an email that the report “appears to be an attempt to discredit the importance of hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) solutions in helping advance global climate goals.” Olszewski was also quoted as saying Chemours “has and continues to implement and advance state-of-the-art technologies to reduce emissions of fluorinated organic chemicals — which includes HFOs.” She also criticized the EIA’s methodology, saying the devices do not appear capable of differentiating between different gases, or between emissions from the Chemours plant and those from nearby facilities.
In response to Honeywell and Chemours, The Washington Post article quoted Mahapatra as saying she and her colleagues “stand by their findings” and the EIA her used technology with a proven record of identifying different gases, and took steps to ensure the emissions came from the Chemours plant by taking measurements directly downwind of it.
“Our evidence is damning: fluorochemical production continues to spew significant avoidable emissions, often undisclosed, despite control measures.”Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director at EIA US