Hole In The Ozone Layer

Knowing Our Environment

Hole in the Ozone Layer - Is it dangerous

The hole in the ozone layer is a phenomenon that has been studied for a long period since its first detection in the 1970s. In the intervening years, scientists traced the cause to the widespread use of halocarbon substances in aerosol sprays and refrigerators as the culprit for punching a hole in the ozone layer.

The first important step in public policy that aimed to resolve the ozone layer depletion phenomenon was the passing of the Montreal Protocol in 1990 which seeks to completely ban the use of halocarbons, organohalogens and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) with chlorine and bromine components except for “certain essential” uses like those seen in asthma inhalers. In its place, the less harmful but still damaging hydro-chlorofluorocarbons were introduced and this has also drawn the attention of policymakers looking to finally close the chapter on the hole in the ozone layer.

While the effort to fully replace CFCs and other ozone-depleting agents have been widely successful on most accounts, a lasting and pervasive effect is still seen especially in the South Pole where ozone depletion if most prominent. Ten years after the completion of the CFC-phase out plan for developing countries in 1996, scientists saw the largest ozone hole ever recorded over Antarctica in September 2006 measured at 29 million square kilometers. This is because CFCs react with stratospheric ozone in a catalytic manner, meaning they are not consumed but only regenerated in the process. Experts estimate that despite the complete removal of CFCs in the market, the hole in the ozone layer will continue to exist for another 50 years returning only to pre-1980 levels by the year 2060 to 2075.

Because the hole in the ozone layer will continue to exist, humans will continue to be vulnerable to the harmful effects of a thinned if not completely non-existent stratospheric ozone barrier. Ozone serves as the Earth’s sunscreen against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The documented effects include skin cancers of various forms like basal and squamous cell carcinomas. The power of ultraviolet radiation leads to mutations in the skin cell structure which is eventually transformed into cancers. Calculations established the relationship between cancers and ozone depletion to a 2% rise in cancer risks for every 1% reduction in ozone layer thickness.

Another skin cancer form that is less common but significantly more dangerous is malignant melanoma. Oncologists say 10 -20% of melanoma cases are fatal in nature with some studies saying a 10% increase in UV radiation dosage can lead to a 19% increase in melanoma risks for men and 16% for women. The hole in the ozone layer is also identified to be responsible for cortical cataracts, and an increase in tropospheric ozone concentrations – ozone that lies close to ground level – which in turn has very strong oxidizing properties and is harmful or toxic to humans when inhaled in large concentrations.

Humans are advised to stay away from direct sunshine exposure especially during the peak periods of highest intensity from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wearing of sunscreen is also a must as it can help to protect against over-exposure. Even during moments when the sun is hidden behind the clouds, the risk of sunburn is still high so always take precautions before going out. Yes, the hole in the ozone layer is dangerous.