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Cancers > Ozone Depletion

The ozone layer protects the Earth from the ultraviolet rays sent down by the sun. If the ozone layer is depleted by human action, the effects on the planet could be catastrophic.

Ozone is present in the stratosphere. The stratosphere reaches 30 miles above the Earth, and at the very top it contains ozone. The suns rays are absorbed by the ozone in the stratosphere and thus do not reach the Earth.

Ozone is a bluish gas that is formed by three atoms of oxygen. The form of oxygen that humans breathe in consists of two oxygen atoms, O2. When found on the surface of the planet, ozone is considered a dangerous pollutant and is one substance responsible for producing the greenhouse effect.

The highest regions of the stratosphere contain about 90% of all ozone.

In recent years, the ozone layer has been the subject of much discussion. And rightly so, because the ozone layer protects both plant and animal life on the planet.

The fact that the ozone layer was being depleted was discovered in the mid-1980s. The main cause of this is the release of CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons.

Antarctica was an early victim of ozone destruction. A massive hole in the ozone layer right above Antarctica now threatens not only that continent, but many others that could be the victims of Antarctica's melting icecaps. In the future, the ozone problem will have to be solved so that the protective layer/

Causes

Only a few factors combine to create the problem of ozone layer depletion. The production and emission of CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons, is by far the leading cause.

Many countries have called for the end of CFC production because only a few produce the chemical. However, those industries that do use CFCs do not want to discontinue usage of this highly valuable industrial chemical.

CFCs are used in industry in a variety of ways and have been amazingly useful in many products. Discovered in the 1930s by American chemist Thomas Midgley, CFCs came to be used in refrigerators, home insulation, plastic foam, and throwaway food containers.

Only later did people realize the disaster CFCs caused in the stratosphere. There, the chlorine atom is removed from the CFC and attracts one of the three oxygen atoms in the ozone molecule. The process continues, and a single chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 molecules of ozone.

In 1974, Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina followed the path of CFCs. Their research proved that CFCs were entering the atmosphere, and they concluded that 99% of all CFC molecules would end up in the stratosphere.

Only in 1984, when the ozone layer hole was discovered over Antarctica, was the proof truly conclusive. At that point, it was hard to question the destructive capabilities of CFCs.

Even if CFCs were banned, problems would remain. There would still be no way to remove the CFCs that are now present in the environment. Clearly though, something must be done to limit this international problem in the future.

Effects

Even minor problems of ozone depletion can have major effects. Every time even a small amount of the ozone layer is lost, more ultraviolet light from the sun can reach the Earth.

Every time 1% of the ozone layer is depleted, 2% more UV-B is able to reach the surface of the planet. UV-B increase is one of the most harmful consequences of ozone depletion because it can cause skin cancer.

The increased cancer levels caused by exposure to this ultraviolet light could be enormous. The EPA estimates that 60 million Americans born by the year 2075 will get skin cancer because of ozone depletion. About one million of these people will die.

In addition to cancer, some research shows that a decreased ozone layer will increase rates of malaria and other infectious diseases. According to the EPA, 17 million more cases of cataracts can also be expected.

The environment will also be negatively affected by ozone depletion. The life cycles of plants will change, disrupting the food chain. Effects on animals will also be severe, and are very difficult to foresee.

Oceans will be hit hard as well. The most basic microscopic organisms such as plankton may not be able to survive. If that happened, it would mean that all of the other animals that are above plankton in the food chain would also die out. Other ecosystems such as forests and deserts will also be harmed.

The planet's climate could also be affected by depletion of the ozone layer. Wind patterns could change, resulting in climatic changes throughout the world.

 
 
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