Commission proposes strategy to phase out CFC inhalers

The European Commission has published plans for the phasing out of CFCs in the production of metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

CFCs are used as propellants in a wide range of MDIs because they are non-toxic and reliable. To protect the ozone layer, the production of CFCs was banned in developed countries in 1996. However, an “essential use” exemption under the Montreal Protocol has allowed the continued production and use of CFCs for metered-dose inhalers while alternatives are developed.
The proposed strategy sets out how the use of CFCs in MDIs can be reduced and eventually phased out as alternatives are introduced, without jeopardising the health of patients.

Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard and Industry Commissioner Martin Bangemann described it as an “innovative and comprehensive strategy which will protect both the ozone layer and the health of asthma patients.” They also paid tribute to the research undertaken by EU producers of metered dose inhalers, including 3M, Glaxo Wellcome and Boehringer Ingelheim, which has resulted in a number of CFC-free inhalers now being available in the EU. The Commissioners praised this as “yet one more example of European manufacturers leading the world in the replacement and phase out of ozone-depleting substances”.

Global production of MDIs is around 500 million per year, leading to the use and emission of some 10,000 tonnes CFCs. The EU is the world’s largest manufacturer, producing each year nearly 250 million inhalers, 25% of which are exported. It is estimated that there are 25 million people in Europe with asthma, and the incidence is rising by 5% per year, with a higher rate of increase among children.

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