The Importance of the Ozone " Like an infection that grows more and more virulent, the continent-size hole in Earth's ozone layer keeps getting bigger and bigger" (Beyond Discovery). The ozone is a protective layer that occurs naturally in the stratosphere, 6 to 28 miles in altitude. Each year, since the late 1970's, much of the ozone layer above Antarctica has disappeared, creating what is popularly known as the "ozone hole". This hole now measures about 9 million square miles, nearly the size of North America. Less dramatic, but still significant, depletion of ozone levels has been recorded around the globe. With less ozone in the atmosphere, more ultraviolet radiation strikes Earth, causing more skin cancer, eye damage, and possible harm to crops.

The main causes of ozone depletion are chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's), such as coolants, aerosols, and fire extinguishers. When CFC's are released, they rise into the ozone layer. The UV (ultraviolet) radiation then releases chlorine from the CFC's. Chlorine is a chemical that disintegrates the ozone. Other everyday items that contribute Cottrell 2 to the devastation of the ozone include household refrigerants and exhaust fumes emitted from automobiles. Without the ozone layer the health of every single living being on planet Earth would be jeopardized.

Ozone depletion leads to an increased exposure to ultraviolet light, which can cause many health problems. Exposure to ultraviolet light greatly increases the risks of skin cancer and cataract development. Skin cancers are very treatable in their early stages but very deadly in the advanced stages. Cataracts are growths in the eyes that cloud vision and can lead to blindness.

Increased UV exposure also causes decreased growth of phytoplankton. This is the light-sensitive organism that not only forms the base of the ocean's food web, but also is responsible for removing much of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Last, a thinning ozone layer would produce lower crop yields. Some crops, such as rice, are sensitive to ultraviolet light. Increased UV exposure could make these crops less productive or even kill them. Much of the world relies on rice as a primary source of food.

The people who need it most are destroying the ozone layer. This problem can be traced back to the overwhelming increase in the world's population. With more people on the planet, there will be use of more automobiles, CFC's, and refrigerants. In turn, an increase in these products will yield an increase in air pollution.

Finally, these pollutants eat away at the ozone and slowly increase the size of the already humongous hole above Antarctica. Cottrell 3 There are many ways in which we can help prevent ozone depletion. Obviously, the best way is to eliminate all ozone-destroying chemicals, but some of these chemicals are important to modern technology and manufacturing. The United States has regulations prohibiting some ozone-destroying chemicals and limiting the use of others through Title VI of the Clean Air Act. Also, the US is a participant in the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international treaty that aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the emissions of man-made ozone-depleting substances. In order to eliminate ozone-depleting chemicals, usable alternatives must be developed.

The CFC-free coolants and aerosol propellants that have been on the market for a number of years are examples of such development. There are other ways to help avoid a disastrous future, as well. Automobile owners can ask if refrigerants from their vehicle will be recovered and recycled during servicing. They can also see about converting their car to a substitute refrigerant if the air-conditioning system needs major repair. Most importantly, repair all leaks in the air conditioning system. About 80 million cars on the road today use CFC refrigerants in their air conditioning systems.

If leaky systems were repaired, it would prevent the release of about 30 million pounds of CFC's this year. At home, it is crucial to repair air conditioners. This step alone prevents ozone-depleting refrigerants from escaping. Also, remove the refrigerant from refrigerators, air conditioners, and dehumidifier's before disposing them.

Removing the refrigerant before disposal of old refrigerators alone would prevent the release of about 4 million pounds of CFC's each year. The used refrigerant can be recycled and reused. Cottrell 4 If the ozone layer were extinguished, life on this planet would be nearly impossible. Our world would be filled with deadly ultraviolet radiation. The ozone protects all life by absorbing 99% of UV radiation. There's not much that can be done about the increasing world population, but there are steps that can be taken to avoid products that are harmful to the ozone layer.

It makes no sense to not protect what has always protected us. There is not much of a choice in the matter. Cottrell 5


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