ozone layer

We are all aware of the hole in the ozone layer, caused by notorious air pollution in a time when we were just learning that chemicals we use in our everyday lives can have detrimental effects on the entire planet. Scientists of the time had begun questioning how the emissions of supersonic aircraft and space shuttles might affect the atmosphere. But such a colossal effect from the simple use of refrigerators and the accumulation of little spritzes of aerosols by individuals was a an eye-opener.

ozone layer hole

A Rocky Start

Stratospheric ozone provides us with critical protection from the rays of the sun. It absorbs and protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer, suppress our immune systems and damage plant life. It is composed of a molecule containing 3 oxygen atoms, which is very reactive with other molecules. Cue chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), molecules which break down by ultraviolet radiation in the stratosphere, giving birth to byproduct chlorine “radicals”. These radicals then react with and destroy ozone molecules. CFCs were developed in the 30’s and increasingly gained popularity in use in refrigerants, aerosol spray-cans and various other applications over the years. But scientists only discovered the potential danger they posed in the ’70s, shortly before the discovery of the hole itself.

The hole in the ozone appeared so rapidly that the scientist who discovered it, Joseph Farman, thought his instruments were broken when he found it. However, the Montreal Protocol took action against CFCs quite rapidly, only two years after the discovery of the hole.  The protocol successfully reduced the amount of CFC use and later completely banned CFC production over the following decades. But unfortunately, CFC’s can’t be removed from the atmosphere as quickly as they were introduced into it. They are very stable molecules that can remain in the atmosphere for decades after release, up to 100 years. Thus, although CFC use dropped, the hole in the ozone layer continued to grow.

But a Happy Ending in Sight

Despite the grim outlook from the start, there is finally good news. 2018 marks the first time scientists confidently state that ozone depletion is decreasing specifically because chlorine content is decreasing in the ozone hole. And the responsibility for that feat goes solely to the superbly successful Montreal Protocol.

The researchers showed a consistent decrease in ozone loss by taking daily ozone measurements above Antarctica for over ten years. But, they needed to know if this ozone loss was due specifically to a decrease in CFCs. Nitrous oxide is another similar behaving long-lived gas in the stratosphere. The ratio of nitrous oxide to that of chlorine shows that chlorine is declining more while nitrous oxides is not. As CFCs are the source of the chlorine, this means CFCs are declining. They determined that the total amount of chlorine is declining on average by about .8 percent annually.

Although it will still take up to sixty years, researchers predict that the ozone will continue to gradually recover.

Chlorofluorocarbons and Other Deceiving Chemicals

The severe havoc wreaked on the ozone by CFCs was not for lack of good intentions. CFCs originally came into play due to their seemingly safe properties including being odorless, non-toxic, non-flammable, compressible, and, of course, stable molecules. A range of products put them to use, including aerosols, freezer linings, food containers, insulation, refrigeration, and air-conditioning system fluids, and electrical cleaning and industrial solvents. Surely it was hard to imagine such versatility and safety leading to such extreme consequences.

Similarly, we face problems choosing which substances and how much of them to use today. Take organic farming for example. Many people believe that organic farming does not use pesticides at all. But US Organic Standards actually approve over 20 chemicals for pesticide use on organic crops. And on top of that, the government does not record the actual amount of pesticides used on organic farms.

Now, regulations deem those 20 chemicals appropriate for organic farming due to them being “natural”. But this definition doesn’t change the fact that they have the same environmental and health consequences. In fact, seemingly counter intuitively, they often result in even greater damages. This is because their decreased effectiveness and lack of regulation means farmers use them more intensively than synthetics. Staying vigilant to the effects of processes and chemicals we use can be difficult, but is necessary for maintaining the long term health of the environment we depend on.

From the Ozone to the Cleaning Industry

cleaning service professionalOther chemicals we still use every day have similar far reaching consequences. Like the ozone-destroying CFCs once found in deodorants and hairsprays, the substances found in everyday products for cleaning, beauty, sunscreens, fuel, and cooking don’t simply disappear after we wipe them up, wash them down the drain, or burn them for our energy needs. They end up in the environment where they can do harm by interacting with wildlife, water, air, and soil. They can also interact with other chemicals, light, or air resulting in further changes to the molecules and unforeseen effects.

Cleaning products represent one of the groups of substances most commonly released into the environment during normal use. Volatile components evaporate into the air and we rinse residual product down the drain. Laboratory studies show that common surfactant ingredients in cleaners function as endocrine disrupters, causing adverse reproductive effects on wildlife. Ingredients containing nitrogen or phosphorus can contribute to nutrient-loading in bodies of water. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can affect indoor air quality, as well as smog formation in outdoor air.

It is important to choose biodegradable, non-toxic, low VOC content, reduced packaging, and low life cycle energy cleaning products. This can prevent their environmental and health effects from becoming as severe as those of CFCs on the ozone layer.

Lessons from the Ozone

While perhaps we can pat ourselves on the back for successfully and collectively taking the necessary action stop ozone hole growth, we need to take it as a serious learning opportunity. Through the Montreal Protocol, the entire world banded together to stop a perceived threat to us all. This proves that we are indeed capable of reversing our mistakes on the grandest of scales, but only through effective collective action in favor of the greater good. This lesson extends to modern decision making, including on the scale of the individual. Our decisions on the products we use and actions we take, when summed together, make a difference.

Montreal Protocol

References:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-study-first-direct-proof-of-ozone-hole-recovery-due-to-chemicals-ban
http://www.theozonehole.com/ozonedestruction.htm
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ozone-hole-was-super-scary-what-happened-it-180957775/
https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/ozone_depletion_09
https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/international-actions-montreal-protocol-substances-deplete-ozone-layer
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-study-first-direct-proof-of-ozone-hole-recovery-due-to-chemicals-ban
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/
https://www.epa.gov/greenerproducts/greening-your-purchase-cleaning-products-guide-federal-purchasers

17 Comments
  1. baltclean 8 months ago

    Great to know about the positive change w/the ozone layer. I wasn’t quite sure that the cleaning industry contributed to it much.
    Our company will focus more on “green cleaning” practices.

  2. WilliamRoy 7 months ago

    Thanks for sharing knowledgeable and convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job Man,Keep it up.

  3. loicmiller 7 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your views.
    Ozone depletion describes two distinct but related observations: a slow, steady decline of about 3 percent per decade in the total amount of ozone in Earth’s stratosphere and a much larger, but seasonal, decrease in stratospheric ozone over Earth’s polar regions during the same period. The latter phenomenon is commonly referred to as the ozone hole.

  4. damienhill 7 months ago

    This is very informative and interesting.
    I want to tell you that Chlorofluorocarbons are one of the main molecules blamed for ozone depletion. Since restrictions on their release into the atmosphere, the ozone layer has recovered some from a few decades ago. The ozone layer blocks much UV light (that’s the light that gives you sunburn and skin cancer). Too much UV light has bad effects on plants and plankton, which together make the base of all major food chains on Earth. We need the ozone layer to survive here.

  5. lucaswright 7 months ago

    It is good to know that Ozone Layer is recovering. You can also add on more about ‘Montreal Protocol’.
    The production of ozone-depleting gases is regulated under a 1987 international agreement known as the “Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer” and its subsequent Amendments and Adjustments. The Protocol, now ratified by over 180 nations, establishes legally binding controls on the national production and consumption of ozone-depleting gases. Production and consumption of all principal halogen-containing gases by developed and developing nations will be significantly reduced or phased out before the middle of the 21st century.

  6. RemiCaron 7 months ago

    Factors such as changes in solar radiation, as well as the formation of stratospheric particles after volcanic eruptions, do influence the ozone layer. However, neither factor can explain the average decreases observed in global total ozone over the last two decades. If large volcanic eruptions occur in the coming decades, ozone depletion will increase for several years after the eruption.

    Great information. I will check out the rest of your blog.

  7. TristonBrown 7 months ago

    I like your article, this is knowledgeable and very interesting article. Your content helped me a lot to take my doubts, thank you very much.

  8. MikaelWood 7 months ago

    Ozone in the stratosphere absorbs some of the Sun’s biologically harmful ultraviolet radiation. Because of this beneficial role, stratospheric ozone is considered “good ozone.” In contrast, ozone at Earth’s surface that is formed from pollutants is considered “bad ozone” because it can be harmful to humans and plant and animal life. Some ozone occurs naturally in the lower atmosphere where it is beneficial because ozone helps remove pollutants from the atmosphere.

  9. loganroy 7 months ago

    I would like to recommend you to add this. The total amount of ozone above the surface of Earth varies with location on time scales that range from daily to seasonal. The variations are caused by stratospheric winds and the chemical production and destruction of ozone. Total ozone is generally lowest at the equator and highest near the poles because of the seasonal wind patterns in the stratosphere.

  10. eliherbert 7 months ago

    The amount of ozone in the atmosphere is measured by instruments on the ground and carried aloft in balloons, aircraft, and satellites. Some measurements involve drawing air into an instrument that contains a system for detecting ozone. Other measurements are based on ozone’s unique absorption of light in the atmosphere. In that case, sunlight or laser light is carefully measured after passing through a portion of the atmosphere containing ozone.

  11. RafaelFortin 7 months ago

    Ozone deletion caused by human being also.The initial step in the depletion of stratospheric ozone by human activities is the emission of ozone-depleting gases containing chlorine and bromine at Earth’s surface. Most of these gases accumulate in the lower atmosphere because they are unreactive and do not dissolve readily in rain or snow. Eventually, the emitted gases are transported to the stratosphere where they are converted to more reactive gases containing chlorine and bromine. These more reactive gases then participate in reactions that destroy ozone. Finally, when air returns to the lower atmosphere, these reactive chlorine and bromine gases are removed from Earth’s atmosphere by rain and snow.

  12. MaximeRichard 7 months ago

    The stratospheric ozone depletion process begins with the emission of halogen source gases at Earth’s surface and ends when reactive halogen gases are removed by rain and snow in the troposphere and deposited on Earth’s surface. In the stratosphere, ther eactive halogen gases, namely chlorine monoxide (ClO) and bromine monoxide (BrO), destroy ozone.

  13. andrewstraut 7 months ago

    Certain industrial processes and consumer products result in the atmospheric emission of “halogen source gases.” These gases contain chlorine and bromine atoms, which are known to be harmful to the ozone layer. For example, the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro chloro fluoro carbons (HCFCs), once used in almost all refrigeration and air conditioning systems, eventually reach the stratosphere where they are broken apart to release ozone-depleting chlorine atoms. Other examples of human-produced ozone-depleting gases are the “halons,” which are used in fire extinguishers and which contain ozone-depleting bromine atoms. The production and consumption of all principal halogen source gases by human activities are regulated worldwide under the Montreal Protocol.

  14. jackconnor 7 months ago

    Ultraviolet radiation at Earth’s surface increases as the amount of overhead total ozone decreases, because ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Measurements by ground-based instruments and estimates made using satellite data have confirmed that surface ultraviolet radiation has increased in regions where ozone depletion is observed.

  15. graceharries 7 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this blog. Your blog is very informative, I get to know many new things about recovery of ozone layer.

  16. JUSTICESCOTT 7 months ago

    The recovery of the ozone layer with careful comparisons of the latest ozone measurements with past values. Changes in total overhead ozone at various locations and in the extent and severity of the Antarctic “ozone hole” will be important factors in gauging ozone recovery. Natural variations in ozone amounts will limit how soon recovery can be detected with future ozone measurements.

  17. NicolasDube 7 months ago

    The ozone layer is expected to recover by, assuming global compliance with the Montreal Protocol. Chlorine- and bromine-containing gases that cause ozone depletion will decrease in the coming decades under the provisions of the Protocol. However, volcanic eruptions in the next decades could delay ozone recovery by several years and the influence of climate change could accelerate or delay ozone recovery.

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