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BEIJING (Reuters) - China is carrying out national inspections on foam industries to crack down on illegal production of ozone depleting substances (ODS) widely used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

The move came after London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a nonprofit organisation, reported in July that dozens of Chinese companies were using CFC-11, a banned chemical that could exacerbate global warming, when producing foam.

China, the world's largest consumer of polyurethane foam, promised to outlaw ODS chemicals including CFC-11 and similar substances when it joined the Montreal Protocol in 1991.

"We will dispatch inspectors from the ministry and also ask local authorities to conduct self-checks ... on all companies involved in foam production," said the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) in a statement on Friday.

"This action is to ensure companies comply with the protocol," the MEE said. But it also admitted that it is hard to uncover the illegal production as the companies involved typically conceal their operations from authorities.

"For companies that are found illegally producing ODS chemicals, we will impose heavy penalties with zero tolerance and prosecute for criminal offences," it said.

Ozone pollution has an also become an increasing public health concern in China after levels rose 8 percent last year, although hazardous floating particles known as PM2.5 remain the country's priority.

Concentrations of lung-damaging ozone hit a record high in China in June, up 11 percent from a year ago, environmental group Greenpeace said in July, citing official data.

The MEE also warned in a separate statement earlier this week that several regions, including capital city Beijing, could see "relatively high" level of ozone pollution in August.

(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Tom Daly; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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