European Community environment ministers Thursday agreed on a surprise pact to virtually eliminate household gases used in refrigerators and spray cans that are destroying the Earth's protective ozone layer.
A community spokesman said the ministers have agreed to eliminate chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production and consumption by the year 2000 and to impose an 85% cut as soon as possible.
In Washington, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly called on the White House to adopt a policy seeking to end the use of ozone-depleting chemicals by the end of the century. (Story, Page 15.)
"This is a quantum leap forward," Lord Caithness, a senior official in the British Environment Ministry, told reporters. The ministers had originally expected to agree on an 85% cut by the end of the century.
The agreement would apply to CFCs covered by a treaty signed in Montreal in 1987, but this excluded a number of other CFCs as well as environmentally dangerous halon gases used in fire-fighting equipment.
About 40 countries, including the United States, agreed at Montreal to halve the production of CFC production by 1998. Diplomats said the 12-nation European Community wanted to take the lead in pushing the world toward total cuts.
"It's a global problem," said French Environment Minister Brice Lalonde. "It's important to get the rest of the world behind us as the EC only accounts for half the problem."
The European Community produces 400,000 metric tons of CFCs a year out of the world's total output of 1.1 million tons.
Environmentalists say it is vital to eliminate CFC and halon production as soon as possible because damage already inflicted on the ozone layer will take decades to reverse.
"No delay can be afforded. Depletion of the planet's protective ozone layer is an unprecedented global threat to life on Earth," the Greenpeace environmentalist organization said in a statement.
London Conference Set
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is staging a 100-nation conference on the ozone layer in London next week. Diplomats say a major objective is to persuade major producers such as India and China to at least sign the Montreal protocol.
"We are talking about millions of people who have refrigerators stuffed with CFCs which will be exploded into the atmosphere when the fridges are thrown away," one diplomat said.
Signatories of the Montreal accord will meet in Helsinki in May to consider ways of toughening the agreement.
Some developing countries have been reluctant to agree to cuts for fear their budding industries will suffer and make them rely on the West for CFC substitutes.
CFCs are used as coolants in refrigerators and air-conditioning systems, in some spray cans, and for cleaning micro-electronic circuits.
Scientists blame the release of CFCs into the atmosphere for the depletion of the ozone layer, which helps shield the Earth from the sun's harmful ultra-violet rays. Unfiltered, the rays can cause skin cancer and damage plant life.
CFCs are also branded as a major cause of the "greenhouse effect," or heating up of the Earth's atmosphere. Scientists say this could change weather patterns with disastrous consequences over large parts of the globe.
Some Compounds Banned
Several countries, including the United States, have banned the use of the compounds in aerosol propellants.
Over the Antarctic, an ozone hole--an area where ozone has been seriously depleted--is worsening, according to the British government's Stratospheric Ozone Review Group. The group reported that ozone concentration was reduced by more than 95% in some areas.
An international expedition warned in February that the atmosphere over the Arctic region is also primed for a large destruction of ozone.
Producers of foam plastic trays for grocery stores and containers for fast food restaurants are the first to be heavily affected by the worldwide campaign against CFCs. Business, Page 1.