At a U.N. meeting on the environment this November, most European countries are expected to back the U.N.'s call to advance to 1995 the date for terminating production of ozone-eating chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). That's five years sooner than the current deadline.

Even so, there's still a big problem: the millions of tons of CFCs already in refrigerators and air conditioners. Because CFCs are extremely resistant to chemical attack, about the only option for disposing of them is expensive, high-temperature incinerators. But a cheaper way may be emerging at Toyama National College of Technology in Hongu, Japan. A team of chemists led by Kiyonori Shinoda has found that soaking activated charcoal in iron chloride yields a catalyst that can crack CFC compounds at temperatures as low as 400F. Mix the CFCs with ethanol, and the catalyst breaks down the mixture into such chemicals as carbon dioxide and ethyl chloride, which are easy to deal with. After a few hours, the catalyst loses some efficiency. But Shinoda believes further research will fix that.

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