Friday, March 20, 2009

Depletion of the OZONE LAYER - A Serious Issue

The Earth is protected against harmful radiation from the sun by a layer of ozone gas in the upper atmosphere, which acts like a filter. This layer is constantly being created and destroyed in a dynamic cycle which has a natural equilibrium.

After many years of concern, in 1985 the British Antarctic Survey first reported ozone thinning over Antarctica. Since then the rate of thinning has increased over wider areas and a loss of about 6-8% in the Northern Hemisphere has been recorded.

Levels have become critical over populated areas in the Southern Hemisphere. The effects of ozone depletion are:

• human health effects such as increase in skin cancer and cataracts.

• effects on the ability of plants to photosynthesise - which may have far - reaching effects on agriculture and phytoplankton (which form the basis of the food chain).

Ozone depletion has been proven to be associated with a range of chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydro-chloro-fluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons. These are artificial compounds, which were developed for a range of industrial uses. Initially these compounds were assumed to be completely safe, as they have no direct toxic effects. However, it is precisely their stability (which makes them non-toxic) that causes the problems in the ozone layer. The amount of CFCs and other ozone depleting substances (ODSs) in the upper atmosphere will continue to re-form and destroy ozone for many years.

The issue was addressed by the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985. This development was followed by the international agreement aimed at phasing out the use of certain ODSs by 2005. This is known as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1987, The most successful environmental treaty in history. The recovery of the Ozone Layer will take decades, but the progressively phasing out of ODSs is an encouraging example of how effective an international agreement can be. However, smuggling of CFCs is still happening in some regions like in Asia.

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