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The Ozone Layer Depletion

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Intro/Background

The existence of the ozone layer around the Earth was discovered back in 1913, when the French physicists Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson first described it in their works. Later on in the century, further studies were made to reveal its properties. This resulted in the invention of spectrophotometer by G. M. B. Dobson. This simple appliance allowed to measure accurately the stratospheric ozone. This laid the foundation for the ozone layer observation (Parson 2003).

In 1974, Sherwood Roland and Mario J. Molina issued the first warning with regard to the danger of the ozone-depleting substances (ODS), the most widespread of which is chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) (Parson 2003). Since then, many scientists from all over the world have confirmed the statement made in 1974. The numerous voices of the scientific community were heard by governments, and 1978 first the USA, and then several other countries banned CFCs from the use in propellant in aerosols (Andersen 2002).

Further studies of the ozone layer gave conclusive evidence of the ozone layer rapid depletion and the emergence of ozone holes. Such socking data spurred world community to international action. September 1987 saw the adoption of the Montreal Protocol. This treaty obliged the signatory countries to reduce the ODSs use by the overall 35%. According to Benedick, more and more countries continued to join the Protocol until in September 2009, it finally reached universal participation (1998). Following the provisions of the treaty, countries all over the world continue to phase out the use of ODSs.

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However, the problem is far from being solved. Even in case of the complete ban of all ODS use, it will take years before the ozone layer could be free from the ODSs. And many more decades will be needed for natural processes to restore the damaged ozone layer completely.

Summary/Overview

Ozone is a chemical element that consists of three atoms of oxygen. In the form of gas, it is present in all layers of Earth’s atmosphere in different concentrations. In the troposphere, closer to the surface of the planet, it becomes a pollutant, being a constituent part of the smog. However, up in the stratosphere, the ozone forms a layer that carries out an essential function.

The importance of the ozone layer is hard to overestimate. Its existence in the stratosphere is one of the vital factors for human survival on Earth (Parson 2003). The ozone layer protects the surface of the planet from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It serves as a shield that reflects the UV rays and absorbs over 90 percent of radiation. Excessive exposure of both humans and animals to harmful UV rays has been proven to cause skin cancer, immune suppression, and cataracts (USA, Department of Commerce n.d).

The existence of this crcial layer, however, is jeopardized by the presence in the atmosphere of compounds that contain chlorine and bromine atoms. Having a stable structure, such atoms easily travel through atmosphere reaching the ozone level. There they react with ozone, causing its atom to break apart. Such dissolution of ozone, results in depletion of its layer in the stratosphere. Because of this harmful effect on the ozone layer, all substances that contain chlorine and bromine molecules are included in the list of ODSs. They include, for instance, the already mentioned CFCs, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons.

According to USA, Environmental Protection Agency, the stability of bromine and chlorine atom structure further adds to the problem (n.d). Not only can they travel through the atmosphere for many years, but also, having reached the ozone layer, they can continue their existence for years there, destroying countless atoms of the protective layer. Thus, even a one-year postponement of total ODS elimination adds several years of the ozone layer destruction and depletion.

Problem Statement/Define the Problem

Unlike some other environmental problems, the importance of which is still discussed, the significance of the ozone layer depletion issue and the need for urgent actions are universally acknowledged.

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Although, the causes and the consequences of the ozone layer depletion have long been established, the solution to the problem has not been achieved yet. The reasons for this are numerous.

First, the ozone layer depletion issue is a universal problem. It cannot be completely solved by any considerable effort of one country or even the majority of countries. The ODS reduction does not stop the ozone layer destruction, but simply slows it down. Only a complete and final elimination of all the ODSs can allow the natural reconstruction process to begin. Thus, although the Montreal Protocol is the step in the right direction, it does not permit to solve this pressing problem fast enough.

Secondly, the use of ODSs is very extensive. They are cheap in production, non-flammable, non-toxic, and stable. All the above characteristics make these substances perfect for the process of manufacturing. Thus, they are hard to replace. Even though, CFCs have largely been changed to hydrocarbons in aerosols, both CFCs and HCFCs are still very present in everyday life. Technologies that allow replacing the ODSs are usually complex and extremely costly (Gutierrez 2013).

Finally, the disposal of appliances that contain ODSs, in particular the CFCs and HCFCs, is a difficult process. Such appliances include old refrigerators and air-conditioning system. If the appliances are disposed inappropriately, the harmful substances, which they contain, are released into the atmosphere. This can also happen during servicing, or because of an accident.

Possible Solutions<

Therefore, the problem of the ozone layer depletion still remains unsolved. There can be many different strategies of solving it. However, the bottom line is it must be addressed on two main levels: the governmental level and the private or everyday level.

As it has already been mentioned above, this issue must be treated as an international problem. This means that the governments of all countries should impose more severe restrictions on ODS use. They need to speed up the phasing out process started by the Montreal Proposal because every day counts.

Developed countries all over the world need to accepted more responsibility. They are the ones, who are to lead the way and to help the developing countries, most of which have neither money nor technology to eliminate the ODSs.

Building special recycling centers are necessary to rule out the ODS pollution because of the improper disposal of old appliances.

The companies that still use the ODSs should be held accountable. First of all, special marking is to be put on all the goods that contain ODSs. Secondly, the producers also need to be obliged to participate actively in the recycling process.

The companies that are currently using ODSs in the manufacturing process need to be encouraged to switch to alternatives. This can be done by offering them some tax cuts or low-interest loan.

As for the private level, the first thing to be done is to raise public awareness. Many people still remain unaware of how serious the problem is. Most of them cannot even imagine that some environmental issue directly influences their health, and the health of their children.

Being aware of scope of the problem, they will be more responsible when it comes to the disposal of their appliances. They will become more conscious consumers, opting for products that are ODS-free.

Such public awareness can also be used to generate funds that are necessary, for instance, for the research of new alternative technologies.

Conclusion

There can be no discussion as for the urgency and complicated nature of this issue. The ozone layer depletion is not a problem the consequences of which will be felt in a thousand years. It represents a rapidly deteriorating state of the ozone layer that results in more and more massive UV radiation exposure. This, in its turn, spurs the increase of the number of patients suffering from radiation related diseases like skin cancer.

Each person on the planet is facing the reality now. This situation calls for urgent and drastic measure. Such measures should be taken both on the international level by governments, and by the citizens themselves in their everyday life. Only the joined forces of all the countries and all people can save the ozone layer from further depletion.

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