Abandoning Harmful Chemicals to Protect Ozone Layer
A chemical commonly used in Chinese factories to clean all types of screens such as TV’s and computers and linked to causing damage to the earth’s ozone layer, may soon be phased out.
- The project has phased out 638.112 metric tons of HCFC-141b, which helped China exceed its target of freezing HCFC-141b consumption at 4530.86 metric tons by 2013 and then reducing consumption by 7.9% in 2015
The chemical known as HCFC-141 b is said to deplete the ozone layer, exposing people to harmful radiations. Such radiation is reported to be responsible for an increase in cases of skin cancer, deaths of animal species and global warming.
Now HCFC-141 is being replaced by Ethanol and other environment friendly cleaners and the government of China is working with factories to introduce new automated cleansing device in the production processes.
This will not only be good for the environment, but will also make factories more efficient, says China’s Ministry of Environment Protection.
“We piloted the phasing-out work in 9 enterprises, but there is still a long way to go.” said Gao Lingyun, Project Officer from the Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO), Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). “In the coming second phase project, we will be working on engaging more small and medium enterprises in this sector. With the participation of industrial associations, and local governments, we hope to introduce more effective mechanisms and collectively guard a healthier environment for us all.”
As it is extremely effective, some manufactures across China have been using HCFC-141b to clean millions of screens for items such as computers, mobile phones and TVs every year yet, according to experts, not only it is toxic to the ozone layer, factory workers have also complained of a range of ailments related to HCFC-141b including numbness in hands, and a host of respiratory problems.
“We were worried about whether this kind of cleaning liquid would hurt us as we had to deal with it in our daily work. It had been a constant concern for us, and weighed on our minds,” said Wu Zhaohua, a production process engineer at the Tianma Micro-electrics company in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province. He works with a team to identify problems in the production process. HCFC-141B is a volatile chemical and evaporates very fast, and workers say it causes numbness in the finger, despite the use of thick gloves.
Given its detrimental impact on the environment and human life, all parties to the Montreal Protocol, including China, reached an agreement to accelerate the phase-out of HCFCs in September 2007. China, as one of the article 5 countries (developing countries), agreed that by 2015, China will reduce 10% of its HCFC consumption level during 2009-2010, and 35% of that by 2020.
The Sector Plan for Phase-Out of HCFCs in the Solvents Sector in China Project Stage I (for 2013 and 2015 Montreal Protocol Compliances) has been implemented by the United Nations Development Porgramme, together with FECO/MEP since 2012. Targeting industries that clean medical devices, and metal cleaning and electronics cleaning that use HCFC-141b, the project has aims to convert technology so such industries stop using the harmful chemicals.
Changes did not go well at first.
“After we replaced HCFC-141b with Ethanol and other environment friendly cleaners, the workers were complaining that using Ethanol for cleaning would leave more stains on the screens, affecting their production rate and our products’ quality.” said Yuan Yuntian, Director of the Environment and Safety Department in Tianma.
“To solve the problem, we leveraged the funding from the project to bring in 12 semi-automatic chip mounters. Later we also upgraded entire production chains with automatic cleaning and patching machines on most of the production lines. These devices allows us to use the environment friendly cleaners to clean the screens more thoroughly and efficiently, and also help us reduce the product defect rate from 6% to 4% every year.”
Yuan says with millions of screens to be produced by Tianma every year, they could save hundreds of thousands of RMB.
With the changes in the factory, the workers have been freed from the intensive cleaning and patch work. Instead, they were provided training on maneuvering new machines and hence have mastered more marketable skills.
“The workload of the workers has been greatly reduced” said Wu, “What’s even better is that there is no more pungent smell and corrosive solvent. It just made us feel more secure.
The successful piloting work in enterprises like Tianma also contributed to the achieving of the phase-out target in the solvent sector in China. In total, 9 pilot enterprises of the projects have phased out, 638.112 metric tons of HCFC-141b, which helped China exceeded its target in reducing the HCFC-141b consumption by 2015.