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Ozone-Depleting Substances on the Black Market

EPA regulations designed to protect the ozone layerHelpozone layerThe region of the stratosphere containing the bulk of atmospheric ozone. The ozone layer lies approximately 15-40 kilometers (10-25 miles) above the Earth's surface, in the stratosphere. Depletion of this layer by ozone depleting substances (ODS) will lead to higher UVB levels, which in turn will cause increased skin cancers and cataracts and potential damage to some marine organisms, plants, and plastics. The science page ( offers much more detail on the science of ozone depletion. restrict the production and import of ozone-depleting substances, including chlorofluorocarbonsHelpchlorofluorocarbonsGases covered under the 1987 Montreal Protocol and used for refrigeration, air conditioning, packaging, insulation, solvents, or aerosol propellants. Since they are not destroyed in the lower atmosphere, CFCs drift into the upper atmosphere where, given suitable conditions, they break down ozone. These gases are being replaced by other compounds: hydrochlorofluorocarbons, an interim replacement for CFCs that are also covered under the Montreal Protocol, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are covered under the Kyoto Protocol. All these substances are also greenhouse gases. See hydrochlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, ozone depleting substance. (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbonsHelphydrochlorofluorocarbonsCompounds containing hydrogen, fluorine, chlorine, and carbon atoms. Although ozone depleting substances, they are less potent at destroying stratospheric ozone than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). They have been introduced as temporary replacements for CFCs and are also greenhouse gases. See ozone depleting substance. (HCFCs). If you knowingly buy or possess illegal CFCs or HCFCs smuggled into the United States, you are committing a punishable, criminal offense. If you are a wholesaler, distributor, or retailer of CFCs or HCFCs, you are responsible for ensuring the CFCs/HCFCs you buy are legal. You should be able to describe the diligent efforts you take to make sure the CFCs/HCFCs you possess were not smuggled into the United States.

Penalties for Purchasing or Possessing Illegal CFCs/HCFCs

The most immediate consequence of possessing illegal CFCs/HCFCs is having them confiscated. The U.S. Customs Service may confiscate any goods that enter the United States illegally. Purchasing your CFCs/HCFCs from a reputable wholesaler or distributor does not relieve you of responsibility. If the CFCs/HCFCs you possess were illegally smuggled into the United States, you could lose the valuable product, even though you paid for it.

If the U.S. Customs Service confiscates your CFCs/HCFCs, you might become the subject of an investigation by the Customs Service and EPA. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also might decide to audit you or your company regarding payment of the excise taxes on CFCs.

If you knowingly purchase or possess CFCs/HCFCs illegally smuggled into the United States, you could face severe penalties.

Ensuring Purchases of CFCs/HCFCs Are Legal

To make sure you purchase or possess legal CFCs/HCFCs, you should know where the specific brand was produced and the name of the manufacturer. Making sure you have legal material that meets the industry purity standard is good business practice. Before you buy CFCs/HCFCs, ask the seller for documents of prior ownership of the product and a laboratory analysis of the quality. Investigating the source of the material and the chain of ownership is your responsibility. If the material was imported, you should know when, where, and from whom it was imported. You also should ensure that the packaging for the material is appropriate. Illegally imported refrigerant is sometimes packaged in wrong-size containers or fixed with improper values.

Examples of People Convicted of Buying or Smuggling CFCs/HCFCs

The following are real examples of what can happen if you buy or possess illegal CFCs or HCFCs.

  • Case 1: The president of a refrigerant distribution company in Florida pled guilty to charges of illegally importing over 8 million pounds of CFCs into the United States. For his role, the president was sentenced to 37 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, fined $375,000, and ordered to forfeit over $13 million in assets. The company was sentenced to pay a fine of over $37 million and serve five years of probation. The company is also potentially liable for over $31 million in back taxes to the IRS. The company's bookkeeper/salesperson also was fined and received a probationary sentence, and the company's chief financial officer received a fine and a 30-day prison sentence.
  • Case 2: Three men were arrested during two separate sting operations by undercover agents when they attempted to purchase CFCs being sold as illegal imports. One man was convicted on charges of making a false statement to the U.S. Customs Service and sentenced to six months of home detention, three years of probation, and a $10,000 fine. He also forfeited $112,000 and personal possessions used in the crime, which were seized at the time of the arrest. The other two men were convicted on charges of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act. At the time of their arrest, $125,200 and a vehicle were seized and forfeited to the government. Both men were sentenced to three years of probation and 240 hours of community service. One of the men also was fined $1,500.
  • Case 3: The president of a Florida import company pleaded guilty in 2009 to three counts of knowingly importing illegal HCFC-22 in violation of the Clean Air Act. He was sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. The corporation was sentenced to five years of probation. A second defendant pled guilty to charges of making false statements and declarations on Customs entry forms to disguise the illegal merchandise being imported. Both defendants were sentenced, jointly and severally, to pay a criminal fine of $40,000 and were further ordered to forfeit more than $1.3 million to the United States.