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Local Company Assists in Rebuilding Ozone Layer

Tanks outside of the RemTec plant on North Enterprise Road. Photo by Nikia Washington

The United Nations Environment Programme released that by 2035, an estimated 150 million diagnoses of various diseases caused by the hole in the ozone will have been avoided. In 1989 the Montreal Protocol ordered a phase out of certain ODS, in order to save the ozone, having a direct correlation with the dismissal of these diseases. RemTec International is a local company assisting in the phase out.

The ozone layer is a layer in the Earth’s atmosphere that absorbs ultraviolet rays from the sun, protecting the Earth’s surface. Over the past century, ozone-depleting substances have created a hole in the ozone layer, allowing ultraviolet rays to reach the Earth’s surface, harming the human population and the environment. UV rays cause cancer and other health problems.

The Montreal protocol, which went into effect in 1989, is an international treaty that prohibits the production of refrigerants, particularly CFCs such as freon, that deplete the ozone layer. These refrigerants are commonly found in older refrigerator and air conditioner tanks.

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan was quoted on the U.S. Department of State website saying this was perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date. The EPAs  website states that today, over 190 countries are participating in the Montreal Protocol.

Headquartered is Bowling Green, Ohio, RemTec International is one of 35 companies nationwide that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards to recycle refrigerants, said Tim Kearny, vice president of RemTec. 

Originally, the company started out as a manufacturer of fire extinguishers, Kearny said.

“In the late 80s, early 90s it was determined that some of the agents being used were ozone-depleting substances,” said Kearny. There was then a move to recycle these materials. RemTec bought equipment to recycle ozone-depleting materials, and soon they were receiving more calls for recycling than for fire extinguishers.

“Our main focus is on ozone-depleting gases,” said Scott Warner, plant manager of RemTec.

Warner, a Bowling Green State University graduate, said the company works closely with the federal and local environmental agencies, and the facility is an EPA-approved facility.

According to RemTec’s website, the company provides three main services: buy back and recovery, destruction, and cylinder certification.

The buy back and recovery program buys uses refrigeration tanks containing old refrigerants from their clientele. Warner explained the company then refurbishes and reclaims the refrigerants to sell to consumers who still use older model technologies that can use the chemicals. The Montreal Protocol states that these CFCs can no longer be produced for new technologies, but allows the use of recycled CFCs to be used for older models that are only compatible with these types of refrigerants.

“The biggest user is the U.S. military,” Kearny said. “They have a lot of old equipment that still needs these refrigerants.”

Company president Richard Marcus said in a video from The World Business Review that the Montreal Protocol requires that these agents are recycled.

“We make sure the product isn’t able to escape,” Warner said.

Although most times the refrigerants are recycled, there are circumstances in which they must be destroyed. RemTec’s website states that in some cases, the ozone-depleting substances cannot be recycled because they can no longer be used legally or are extremely deteriorated. Warner said the destruction consist of removing these refrigerants from the tanks and destroying them on site, through either burning or destruction by use of other chemicals.

RemTec’s Bowling Green office is located on Haskins Road. Photo by Nikia Washington.

RemTec is one of six facilities in the United States that meet the standards of the EPA to destroy ozone-depleting substances.

Warner said that RemTec operates on a closed booth system, meaning they function in a way that the chemicals should not escape.

However, the Toxic Release Inventory shows that during the past four years, RemTec has released more than 10,000 pounds a year of toxic waste. All of the waste were chemical gases, including 54 pounds of freon, one of the ozone-depleting substances.

Kearny said the chemicals listed on the TRI report are refrigerants.

“There is no human harm,” Kearney said of these releases.  He did say, however, they cause can cause harm to the upper atmosphere, which is the exact issue they are trying to prevent.

Phillippa Cannon of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S.  EPA Region 5 said TRI data is not sufficient to calculate potential effects on human health or the environment.

RemTec has four additional locations around the globe:  Italy, Canada, Australia and California. RemTec’s website identifies Australia’s location as a destruction and processing plant, and the other locations as sales offices. Other than headquarters, Bowling Green also has a manufacturing division.

“More than manufacturing, we focus on reclaiming and reselling,” Warner said.  Kearney said it is mainly titled the “manufacturing division” because of the previous production of fire extinguishers.

Warner said RemTec moved its office from Holland, Ohio, 12 years ago to Bowling Green, where the company had room to expand.

“We have a lot of local ties to Bowling Green,” Warner said. Some of the company’s staff are BGSU graduates, including Warner and Marcus. RemTec also chose to relocate to Bowling Green because the utilities were cheaper.

How the Montreal Protocol Works

The Montreal Protocol functions in a series of phases. Phase one was to phase out class one substances, CFCs and halons. The United States completely ended the production of these gases in 1996, but they were produced globally until December 2010.

Truck brings in refrigeration tanks to RemTec plant. Photo by Nikia Washington.

“The class one substances have now all been completely banned from production,” said Kearny.

Phase two consists of the phase out of class two substances, HCFCs, which were replacements for CFCs. These are said to be completely banned by year 2030.

“The United States is accelerating that phase,” Kearny said. “Hopefully by 2020 [HCFCs] will be down to zero production.”

Chemicals made to replace ozone-depleting HCFCs, HFCs, have been found to be greenhouse gases that cause global warming, presenting the next issue to be tackled.

In the future, RemTec will focus on working with the Montreal Protocol to eliminate these gases from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Kearney said work is currently being done on products which do not promote global warming or ozone depletion and can be used as a refrigerant, likely to be available in the next two years.

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