Potent Heat-Trapping Gases Being Smuggled Into Europe

An illegally traded refrigerant mislabeled as a safer alternative.

An illegally traded refrigerant mislabeled as a safer alternative. Guardia Civil via EIA

Smugglers are illegally moving refrigerants into Europe that, when leaked from air conditioners and refrigerators, pose a significant threat to the climate.

These refrigerants, called hydrofluorocarbons, only stay in the atmosphere for around 15 years, but they trap hundreds or thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide. While regulators are working to curtail their use, the substances are still entering the E.U. illegally, according to a new report from the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency.

Five years ago, the group uncovered a sprawling black market for hydrofluorocarbons, and its latest analysis finds smugglers are getting better at avoiding detection. Investigators working undercover in Spain, Bulgaria, and Turkey found traders are managing to skirt E.U. regulations by disguising hydrofluorocarbons as other kinds of refrigerants and by selling them anonymously through Facebook Marketplace and other online platforms.

The report maps the flow of hydrofluorocarbons from China and Turkey into Romania, Bulgaria, and other countries on the eastern edge of Europe, where enforcement is lax, and then on to Greece, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

“There is a clear need to invest and strengthen monitoring, reporting, verification, and enforcement,” the report said. And given the high demand for hydrofluorocarbons, companies must also develop alternatives: “There is an urgent need to find better ways to keep cool.”


Nations Are Undercounting Emissions, Putting UN Goals at Risk