Describes In Simple Terms The Problems Facing The Ozone Layer, Including The Problem Of Cpc's And The Emergence Of A "Hole" Includes Bibliography

2318 words - 10 pages

Ozone, a gas very similar to oxygen, can both help and harm humans, yet a problem has recently risen as levels of "good" ozone is being depleted. However, the source of this depletion created a big controversy when it was discovered, and, although it is now rarely mentioned, a dispute still exists. The problem arises that not all scientists, and other people for that matter, believe that chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) are enhancing the problem, which is the commonly accepted theory. Yet before the problem can be understood the composition of the ozone layer must be discussed.While ozone is a gas made of the same atom as oxygen, it has a different number of these atoms, altering its physical characteristics slightly. For example, ozone has a very pungent smell and a slight blue color. The ozone layer is in the stratosphere, the second layer of the atmosphere, and is located approximately ten to forty kilometers (six to twenty-five miles) above the earth. While there is only one chemical form of ozone, it can serve to both help the environment and hurt it."Bad" ozone is found close to the ground, in the air which humans and other life forms breathe, acting as a pollutant. Automobile exhausts and other chemicals can create this type of ozone. Another major problem, besides pollution, which the harmful ozone contributes to, is smog on roads, making it hard for drivers to see. When sunlight shines on ozone, it creates smog, which has a brownish-yellow color. This can cause people to cough and make eyes water, as well as damage lungs, which can eventually kill people who already have lung diseases. However, this ozone can be beneficial by absorbing ultraviolet rays that reach the earth.Contrary to this, "good" ozone is found high in the atmosphere, approximately fifteen to twenty miles above sea level. This layer of ozone is natural, and helps to protect the earth by blocking harmful sunrays, such as ultraviolet (UV) rays. Rays such as these can cause skin cancer in humans, can harm animals, and can kill creatures in the ocean that are vital in the food chain. The ozone layer keeps these rays from ever coming close to the earth, making life possible.While all scientists agree that both harmful and helpful ozone exist, the matter of a "hole" in this protective layer tends to be highly disputed. To understand where their argument originates, one must first have some knowledge of the history of the problem. In 1970, chemist Harold Johnston made a prediction that exhaust from supersonic jet fighters, full of nitrogen, could be thinning the ozone layer. Later, in 1974, Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland jointly published an article in which they hypothesized that CFC's were even more damaging to the ozone layer than nitrogen oxides. Shortly after, a "hole" was discovered in the ozone layer above the South Pole. Through two expeditions to Antarctica in the late 1980s, it was determined that the chlorine atom in the CFC molecule was what was causing the problem.An agreement was made in 1987 known as the Montreal Protocols. In this, fifty-three industrial nations approved to eliminate the use of CFC's and other comparable chemicals, known as Halons, by the year 2000. In 1990, the pact was strengthened when it was decided that other chemicals such as methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, which are chlorine-based, would also be eliminated.Three opinions on the causes of the hole in the ozone layer, and if there is indeed a hole, tend to be debated. The primary opinion is that the hole does exist and that CFC's and other such chemicals cause it. When the scientists who take this side of the argument were searching for what could be creating this problem, they immediately determined that the substance destroying it must be something fairly new. The chemicals found in air pollution were carefully studied and it was determined that some of these chemicals help UV rays destroy ozone much faster. Though the breaking-down of ozone by UV rays is a natural process, it was being accelerated to the point that it began to ruin the balance in the environment.Chlorofluorocarbons were the primary chemical that scientists found to aid UV rays. These chemicals began to be produced in the early 1930s and have been frequently used in aerosol cans, as cooling liquids in refrigerators and air-conditioners, for making the bubbles in foam, and in making electrical components. CFC's are both nontoxic and cheap to produce, seemingly an ideal compound. However, they begin to create a problem when they release their chlorine atoms. This process occurs as they reach the stratosphere, which is the only place this reaction can take place, and they tend to attack ozone molecules.A second belief, which is not as popular as the previously mentioned, is that CFC's play a very small role in ozone layer depletion, and that it is rather a natural process, which does not impose a threat to society. A huge supporter of this viewpoint is Haroun Tazieff, France's most famous volcano expert. In an interview with Ian Phillips, a reporter in the UK, Tazieff speaks to support his opinions on the CFC theory. He states, "The ozone hole is a natural hole which appears above the Antarctic at the beginning of October and has disappeared by the end of December..." Tazieff notes that while there is a possibility that CFC's may have some effect on the ozone layer, nothing has been proven, and the entire theory is especially suspicious to him because the CFC gases were said to be coming from sprays and deodorants, when most of the substances were used in the northern hemisphere, not in the Arctic, where the hole was found.Other supporters of this opinion have found that the existence of ozone holes above Norway were reported as early as 1926, when CFC's had not yet been created. Also, the Antarctic hole was discovered around 1957, not the recent phenomenon it was portrayed as. Some scientists believe that there are few UV rays over the Antarctic, where the hole is, and therefore cannot produce enough ozone, allowing for what appears to be a hole in the ozone layer. Another fact which many scientists use to their benefit is that while only 7500 tons of chlorine are released from the breakdown of CFC's each year, the evaporation of seawater creates 600 million tons and volcanoes produce 36 million tons.The third opinion is probably the second most common view to be taken. Under these beliefs, one concludes that CFC's and other man-made chemicals contribute somewhat to the ozone hole. This is proven through the chemistry that takes place between UV rays, ozone molecules, and chlorine atoms. However, under this theory, natural causes are thought to provide equally as much of a problem. Therefore, this opinion is neither one side nor the other, but instead allows facts from both arguments to be agreed with. This opinion, more so than the two other views, considers that out of human nature, facts are sometimes twisted to suit theories and hence not all of the information presented by either side is completely accurate.As all three opinions believe that natural causes do take some toll on the ozone layer, some of these natural causes must be noted. Volcanoes possibly account for the most destruction by a natural cause. When volcanoes erupt, they release hundreds of tons of water vapor, along with both harmful and helpful chemicals, into the atmosphere. One such chemical is hydrogen chloride, a mixture of hydrogen and chlorine. The chlorine in this chemical reacts with the ozone gas, assuming it has enough force to reach the ozone layer.Two other common natural causes are bad storms and burning forests. Lightning in storms is sparks of electricity between clouds or else between clouds and the ground. This lightning can cause reactions that split ozone molecules, therefore thinning the ozone layer. Burning forests release numerous chemicals, many containing chlorine, which proceed to reach the ozone layer and cause reactions.I, Beth Barrett, believe that CFC's prove to be the leading cause of ozone layer depletion. While natural causes do occur and therefore must present some harm to the ozone layer, much more evidence has pointed to CFC's as damaging the earth's protective layer. First of all, while almost all of the chlorine given off by CFC's reaches the ozone layer, very miniscule amounts produced by natural causes, such as volcanoes, actually make it up there. Also, once the Montreal Protocols were established, and CFC's and other such chemicals were banned, the ozone hole became significantly smaller. This gives obvious evidence that these harmful chemicals play a large role in the depletion of the ozone layer.Contrary to this opinion, I, Kelly McGinnis, concur with the viewpoint that both CFC's and natural causes play an equal role in deteriorating the ozone layer. To support the idea that natural causes create the hole, it should be understood that there is not actually a "hole" but rather a seasonal reduction in the amounts of ozone gas over certain parts of the world, Antarctica being a primary example. Another point which should be noted is that, while the depletion of the ozone layer is said to increase chances of getting skin cancer, this statistic has been steadily rising for over forty years, much before CFC's were widely used. However, those that support the idea of CFC's destroying the earth's ozone layer have a point. These chemicals are most assuredly altering the natural balance of ozone in the atmosphere, which, as Beth mentioned, can be demonstrated through the results of the Montreal Protocols.Regardless of what actually is causing the hole to be formed, there have been several effects of this problem as well as measures that have been taken to minimize it. The ultraviolet light which is reaching the earth's surface has established some effects, such as blindness and cancer. Eyes are highly sensitive to UV rays and, once exposed to large amounts of these rays, may develop snow blindness and/or cataracts. Also, skin cells absorb the UV rays, which causes skin to burn. If burning occurs frequently enough, skin cells can form cancer cells. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that if ozone continues to be destroyed at the same rate as it was in 1999, every year 50,000 more people could suffer from skin cancer and another 100,000 could become blind.After the Montreal Protocols, a substitute had to be made to replace CFC's. Most commonly used is HCFC-123, though natural substances are sometimes used in addition to these. However, HCFC-123 does not completely solve the ozone hole problem as it itself harms the ozone layer, though not as much as CFC's. To attempt to eliminate all CFC's as quickly as possible, the government is asking all people to try to replace refrigerators that contain CFC's with newer, environment-safe ones. Also, it is being asked that people make sure aerosol cans do not contain CFC's and, if they do, to dispose of them.The ozone hole is gradually being mended, though it is expected by some that the hole will always remain, if it can even be considered a "hole" at all. While all CFC's must be phased out by the year 2030, it may be found that other chemicals are damaging the ozone layer just as much. Though society commonly believes that it is indeed man-made chemicals which have created the ozone hole, both of the other views supply adequate information to convey their opinions. Perhaps, in the future, one theory will be singled out as the correct theory. For the time being, society seems to be willing to accept what they have been told by the media, that CFC's are harmful, and unless this theory is somehow proven incorrect, will most likely remain the prominent opinion.BibliographyAbramson, Rudy. "Ozone Depletion Is Year-Round, Scientists Find." The Los Angeles Times. October 23, 1991: 1.Bolch, Ben and Harold Lyons. "Hole In Warming Theory." The Commercial Appeal. November 9, 1997: B3.Diggs, Carol. "Majority of Aerosol Products Don't Have CFC Propellants." Pantagraph. December 21, 1996: A14.Morgan, Sally. The Ozone Hole. New York: Franklin Watts, 1999.Phillips, Ian. "Telling Little Green Lies?; Mind and Matter." The Times. October 10, 1994.Pringle, Laurence. Vanishing Ozone: Protecting Earth From Ultraviolet Radiation. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1995.Sherr, Evelyn B. and Arthur James Boucot. "Pseudoscience Accepted Sans Study or Skepticism." The Oregonian. May 20, 1994: E07._____. "Shooting Down the Ozone Scare." Machine Design. October 22, 1993: 36.Stille, Darlene R. Ozone Hole. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1991.Walker, Jane. Man-Made Disasters: The Ozone Hole. New York: Gloucester Press, 1993.Warsh, David. "Taking Science Out of Politics." Boston Globe. December 10, 1995: 97.


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