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27 June 2013

INTERPOL-UNEP manual alerts authorities to methods of smuggling dangerous chemicals

Illicit trade in ozone depleting substances causes health, environmental damage

BANGKOK, Thailand – The smuggling and concealment of ozone depleting substances (ODS) is a global problem with serious consequences for environmental protection, according to a new law enforcement handbook produced by INTERPOL and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The manual, entitled ‘Ozone Depleting Substances Smuggling and Concealment: Case Study Handbook’, provides information and guidance for police, customs and border security officers on methods commonly used by criminals to hide and smuggle illegal ODS. The ultimate aim is to strengthen the law enforcement response to the illegal trade in these chemicals.

Ozone depleting substances are chemicals which contribute to the destruction of ozone molecules in the atmosphere. These substances are used in refrigeration and air conditioning, cleaning agents and agricultural pesticides, particularly in developing countries. The depletion of the ozone layer caused by ODS has negative effects on both human health and on the environment, leading to, for example, higher rates of skin cancer and contributing to climate change.

Despite nearly worldwide ratification of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and its subsequent amendments, trafficking of these chemicals still occurs. The trade is fueled in part by the high cost of alternative chemicals, the continued use of equipment which uses ODS, and the price differential between ODS in industrialized and developing countries.

Robert van de Bogert, Head of the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate - Intelligence and Investigation Service said: “Even 15 years after the introduction of the trade ban there still are illegal exports of CFCs, therefore international coordination is still needed.”

To produce the manual, INTERPOL gathered case studies from member countries detailing current methods they have found used by criminals for smuggling and concealing ODS. Case studies were submitted by 18 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America, as well as UNEP and the World Customs Organization, highlighting the truly global scope of the problem.

“The contribution of case studies from such a wide range of INTERPOL member countries emphasizes the global nature of illegal trade in ozone depleting substances. ODS pose a great threat to the security of our shared environment,” said David Higgins, Manager of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme.

Common smuggling and concealment methods highlighted in the manual include falsely labeling containers, bypassing customs and hiding illegal chemicals behind legal goods.

“ODS smugglers are often inventive, ingenious and well connected – making it difficult for enforcement agencies to detect and seize illegal shipments of ODS. It is only by remaining well informed, vigilant and cooperating at national and international levels that the scourge of ODS smuggling can be combated,” said Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Head of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, OzonAction Branch. “This practical guide will contribute to these important efforts.”

The guidebook was made available to the law enforcement community during the 33rd Meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok.

Under the direction of the Pollution Crime Working Group and Project Eden, INTERPOL has expanded its pollution crime-related initiatives. The Pollution Crime Working Group will hold its 18th meeting in November in Nairobi, Kenya, during the INTERPOL Environmental Compliance and Enforcement events (4-8 November 2013).