THE 12 nations of the European Community intend to accelerate measures to ban the use of a wide range of man-made substances that deplete the protective ozone layer around the earth.
EC governments are stepping up pressure on manufacturers to produce ozone-friendly chemicals to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigeration, fire extinguishers, and industrial cleaning.
Chemical industry spokesmen acknowledge that they are coming under increasing pressure from governments and environmental groups to find safe substitutes for CFCs, and say they are spending large sums on research aimed at ridding the world of ozone-threatening chemicals.
EC environment ministers returned from a meeting in Estoril, Portugal, Feb. 23, with a draft agreement to phase out CFCs by 1995 - two years earlier than the previous EC deadline and four years before the target date set under the 70-nation Montreal Protocol, which calls for a phaseout by the end of the century. The draft is to be put before a session of the European Council of Ministers on March 23 for formal adoption.
In what EC Environment Commissioner Carlo Ripa di Meana called "an escalation of virtuous behavior," Britain, Germany, Denmark, and Luxembourg had already adopted the 1995 deadline before the Estoril meeting.
The ministers also agreed on the need to begin eliminating other ozone-depleting chemicals widely used in industry, including carbon tetrachloride, halons, and methyl chloroform.
The ministers were spurred on by reports from United States and European scientists who are forecasting rapid depletion of the ozone layer above northern Europe this spring and summer.
Britain's environment secretary, Michael Heseltine, said he welcomed a decision by Britain's Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) to cease manufacture of CFCs 11 and 12 - the main ozone-destroying products - by the end of 1993. ICI is Europe's biggest manufacturer of CFCs.
In Germany, the government is taking a lead in moving forward to 1993 a ban on ozone-destroying chemicals the EC had originally set for 1995. The chief target of the Bonn government's pressure is the chemical giant BASF, which produces 5,000 tons of CFCs a year.
German Environment Minister Klaus Toepfer wants BASF to adopt a phaseout timetable in line with that announced by ICI.
A spokesman for ICI said his company now has a plant in Britain ready to produce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are less damaging to the ozone layer than CFCs. A second plant would come on stream in the United States by the end of 1992, he said. The trade name of the CFC substitute is Klea.
"We have spent about 100 million pounds over the last five years on research into finding CFC replacements," the ICI spokesman said. "That research is continuing."
The company is also engaged in research aimed at developing other types of CFC substitute, with a production target date of "around the year 2000.We are conscious that HFCs are not entirely benign, and we must anticipate future legislation that may ban them, along with CFCs," the spokesman said.
In Britain, much of the impetus for the replacement of CFCs and other dangerous chemicals with ozone-friendly substances is coming from the environmental pressure group Greenpeace. On Feb. 25 Greenpeace called on the British government to set up a series of stations to monitor the intensity of ultraviolet B rays reaching the earth.
The ICI spokesman said his company was having to work "very hard" to meet the new deadlines on phasing out CFCs. Although ICI was in commercial competition with companies such as BASF in Germany and Du Pont in the US, there was "much free exchange between researchers" of technical information about ways of replacing ozone-depleting substances. This was helping to speed up work on the development of CFC substitutes.