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1. The ozone layer: What is it?
2. Ozone depletion: Who is
3. The ozone hole: Why over
5. Ozone depletion and skin cancer: What’s
the connection?
6. What about other illnesses?
7. Ozone depletion: Not a farmer’s best
8. Collaborative Global Government
9. Ozone and health


I. The ozone layer: What is it?

The ozone layer is a portion of earths atmosphere that contains high levels of ozone. The
atmosphere is divided into five layers: the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere,
the thermosphere, and the exosphere. The troposphere is the layer closest to earth and is
where all weather happenings occur. The stratosphere is located directly above the
troposphere, about 10-50 kilometers above the planet, and houses the ozone layer at an
altitude of 20-30 kilometers. The mesosphere is located approximately 50-80 kilometers
above the earth, while the thermosphere rests at an altitude of approximately 100-200
kilometers above the earths surface. Finally, the boundary of the outermost layer, the
exosphere, extends roughly to 960-1000 kilometers above the earth. For a visual of the
lowermost three layers of our atmosphere, refer to Figure 1 below.
Ozone (O3) is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of
oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic species O2. Ground-level ozone is an air
pollutant with harmful effects on the respiratory systems of animals. Ozone in the upper
atmosphere filters potentially damaging ultraviolet light from reaching the Earth’s
surface. It is present in low concentrations throughout the Earth’s atmosphere. It has
many industrial and consumer applications. Ozone therapy is a controversial alternative
medicine practice; mainstream scientific medicine has found ozone to be harmful to
humans and equipment intended to be used for ozone therapy is banned in the United
States. Ozone, the first allotrope of a chemical element to be described by science, was
discovered by Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1840, who named it after the Greek word
for smell (ozein), from the peculiar odor in lightning storms.[3] The odor from a lightning
strike is from ions produced during the rapid chemical changes, not the ozone itself

Figure 1: Earth’s atmosphere is divided into layers, which have various characteristics.
Source: NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory, 1998
The ozone found in our atmosphere is formed by an interaction between oxygen
molecules (composed of two oxygen atoms) and ultraviolet light. When ultraviolet light
hits these oxygen molecules, the reaction causes the molecules to break apart into single


atoms of oxygen (UV light + O2 --> O + O). These single atoms of oxygen are very
reactive, and a single atom combines with a molecule of oxygen to form ozone (O3),
which is composed of three atoms of oxygen (2O + 2O2 --> 2O3).
The ozone layer is essential for human life. It is able to absorb much harmful ultraviolet
radiation, preventing penetration to the earth’s surface. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is
defined as radiation with wavelengths between 290-320 nanometers, which are harmful
to life because this radiation can enter cells and destroy the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
of many life forms on planet earth. In a sense, the ozone layer can be thought of as a
“UV filter” or our planet’s “built in sunscreen” (Geocities.com, 1998). Without the
ozone layer, UV radiation would not be filtered as it reached the surface of the earth. If
this happened, “cancer would break out and all of the living civilizations, and all species
on earth would be in jeopardy” (Geocities.com, 1998). Thus, the ozone layer essentially
allows life, as we know it, to exist.
In order for scientists to evaluate how much ozone is in the layer, a unit of measurement
called the Dobson Unit is employed. A Dobson Unit is a measurement of how thick a
specific portion of the ozone layer would be if it were compressed into a single layer at
zero degrees Celsius with one unit of atmospheric pressure acting on it (standard
temperature and pressure - STP). Thus, one Dobson Unit (DU) is defined as .01 mm
thickness at standard temperature and pressure. Figure 2 shows a column of air over
Labrador, Canada. Since the ozone layer over this area would form a 3 mm thick slab,
the measurement of the ozone over Labrador is 300 DU.


II. Ozone depletion: Who is responsible?

It is important to recognize the sources of ozone depletion before one can fully
understand the problem. There are three main contributors to the ozone problem: human
activity, natural sources, and volcanic eruptions (See Figure 3).

Figure 3: Humans cause more damage to the ozone layer than any other source.
Source: Geocities.com, 1998

Human activity is by far the most prevalent and destructive source of ozone depletion,
while threatening volcanic eruptions are less common. Human activity, such as the
release of various compounds containing chlorine or bromine, accounts for
approximately 75 to 85 percent of ozone damage. Perhaps the most evident and
destructive molecule of this description is chloroflourocarbon (CFC). CFCs were first
used to clean electronic circuit boards, and as time progressed, were used in aerosols and
coolants, such as refrigerators and air conditioners. When CFCs from these products are
released into the atmosphere, the destruction begins. As CFCs are emitted, the molecules
float toward the ozone rich stratosphere. Then, when UV radiation contacts the CFC
molecule, this causes one chlorine atom to liberate. This free chlorine then reacts with an
ozone (O3) molecule to form chlorine monoxide (ClO) and a single oxygen molecule
(O2). This reaction can be illustrated by the following chemical equation: Cl + O3 --> O2
+ ClO. Then, a single oxygen atom reacts with a chlorine monoxide molecule, causing
the formation of an oxygen molecule (O2) and a single chlorine atom (O + ClO --> Cl +
O2). This threatening chlorine atom then continues the cycle and results in further
destruction of the ozone layer (See Figure 4). Measures have been taken to reduce the
amount of CFC emission, but since CFCs have a life span of 20-100 years, previously
emitted CFCs will do damage for years to come.


Figure 4: A pictorial explanation of how the interaction of CFCs and UV radiation

damage the ozone layer.
Source: Geocities.com, 1998
Natural sources also contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, but not nearly as much
as human activity. Natural sources can be blamed for approximately 15 to 20 percent of
ozone damage. A common natural source of ozone damage is naturally occurring
chlorine. Naturally occurring chlorine, like the chlorine released from the reaction
between a CFC molecule and UV radiation, also has detrimental effects and poses danger
to the earth.
Finally, volcanic eruptions are a small contributor to ozone damage, accounting for one
to five percent. During large volcanic eruptions, chlorine, as a component of
hydrochloric acid (HCl), is released directly into the stratosphere, along with sulfur
dioxide. In this case, sulfur dioxide is more harmful than chlorine because it is converted
into sulfuric acid aerosols. These aerosols accelerate damaging chemical reactions,
which cause chlorine to destroy ozone.


III. The ozone hole: Why over Antarctica?

When the topic of the ozone layer arises, many people immediately think of the hole
over Antarctica, but few know why the hole is actually there. In 1985, British scientists
discovered this hole. A special condition exists in Antarctica that accelerates the
depletion of the ozone layer. Every Arctic winter, a polar vortex forms over Antarctica.
A polar vortex is “a swirling mass of very cold, stagnant air surrounded by strong
westerly winds” (Roan, 126). Since there is an absence of sun during Arctic winters, the
air becomes incredibly cold and the formation of ice clouds occurs. When the sun returns
in the spring, the light shining on the nitrogen oxide filled ice particles activates the
formation of chlorine. This excess of ozone destroying chlorine rapidly accelerates the
depletion of the ozone layer. Finally, when the polar vortex breaks up, the rapid
dissolution decreases. It is evident that the effects of the polar vortex are dramatic. “For
about two month every southern spring, the total ozone declines by about 60% over most
of Antarctica. In the core of the ozone hole, more than 75% of the ozone is lost and at
some altitudes, the ozone virtually disappeared in October, 1993” (Nilsson, 19). The
average size of the ozone hole is larger than most continents, including South America,
Europe, Australia, and Antarctica, and the maximum size of the ozone hole in 1996 was
larger than North America (See Figure 5). Finally, one must note that the “hole” over
Antarctica is truly a “hole” only in the Antarctic spring, when the depletion is extremely
severe due to the vortex.

Figure 5: On average, the size of the ozone hole is larger than many countries.
Source: Geocities.com, 1998

The hole above Antarctica has clearly proven to be detrimental. Plankton, organisms that
live on carbon, light, and nutrients such as nitrogen, are near the bottom of the food


chain, and are accustomed to low levels of UV. In December of 1994, on the island of
Bacharcaise off Antarctica, increased levels of UV radiation decreased the number of
photoplankton dramatically. Photoplankton are the main source of food for krill, which
in turn are the main source of food for various birds and whales in the Antarctic region
(See Figure 6).

Figure 6: Ultraviolet radiation proved detrimental to this Arctic food chain in December,
Source: Nilsson, 1996
At this time, due to the decreased number of photoplankton, the krill level was so low
that it could not support the penguin population. Thus, some penguins were forced to
travel up to two hundred miles in search of food, but most returned with none.
Furthermore, when summer came, only approximately ten of the 1800 hatched penguin
chicks survived. This tragedy illustrates the fact that even underwater creatures are not
protected from harmful UV rays, and is a perfect example of the entire food chain being
affected due to an increase in the UV radiation as a result of the thinning ozone layer.


The most obvious, and perhaps most important connection between society and the ozone
layer is the fact that scientific research suggests depletion of the ozone layer directly and
indirectly endangers the health of the population. Research has focused on connections
between the depleting ozone layer and skin cancer, immuno-suppression, cataracts, and
snow blindness.
IV. Ozone depletion and skin cancer: What’s the connection?
Exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of skin cancer and causes damage to the
DNA in the skin cells. DNA is extremely sensitive to UV radiation, especially UV-B
radiation. UV radiation is located in the optical radiation portion of the electromagnetic
spectrum, while UV-B radiation is a subdivision of the ultraviolet spectrum and consists
of a wavelength of 280 to 315 nanometers. Thus, DNA is especially sensitive to
radiation with a wavelength between 280 and 315 nanometers (See Figure 7).

Figure 7: UV-B, the most harmful radiation to humans and plants, has a wavelength of
280-315 nanometers, as measured on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Source: Nilsson, 1996
When UV radiation hits the skin, it can cause the cell to “lock up” and scramble or delete
DNA information. This action causes confusion in the DNA, and the body loses control
of the growth and division of the cell. If the conditions are right, the cell may become
cancerous. It is important to note that not all affected cells turn into skin cancer, for
many can repair themselves. However, continual exposure to UV radiation increases the
risk of skin cancer due to cumulative damage of the DNA.
Skin cancer can be divided into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. The
melanoma form of skin cancer is the more dangerous of the two. This type of cancer has


the ability to spread quickly throughout the body and invade other cells. On the other
hand, non-melanoma skin cancer is not to be taken lightly either, but is a less serious
form of the disease. Non-melanoma skin cancers are not usually life threatening, and
removal is relatively routine. However, treatment does include radiation therapy or
surgery. The concern of many is that sunburn may lead to increased risk of acquiring skin
cancer. Some forms of cancer are associated with sunburn, while other forms are not.
Melanoma skin cancer is a form that sunburns may play a leading role in. Jan van der
Leun, a Dutch scientist, explains that, “light hitting the outer layer of the skin, the
epidermis, triggers the production of some substances which diffuse into the dermis
below. The dermis is filled with blood vessels, and the chemical substances cause them
to dilate, making the skin red and warm to the touch” (Nilsson, 83).
The bottom line is that UV ray exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. However,
controversy lies around the question of whether or not the depletion of the ozone layer
will lead to more sunburns, and in turn, more skin cancer. Some scientists suggest that
the skin will gradually adapt to higher UV-B levels as the ozone gradually depletes
(Nilsson, 83). The opponent to this theory would state that the thinning of the ozone
layer would lead to more human UV-B exposure. This increased UV-B exposure would,
in turn, increase the damage to the DNA making it difficult for the cell to correct the
damage before it divides. This damage accumulates over time and increases the chances
that a cell will turn cancerous. In addition, since UV-B radiation damages the immune
system, it is much more likely that a cell will turn cancerous. “In animal studies,
immunosuppressive effects caused by UV-B have indeed been shown to play an
important role in the outcome of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers”
(Nilsson, 105). Furthermore, Nilsson (81) states that “for the non-melanoma skin
cancers, the evidence is compelling and there are estimates that each percentage decrease
in the stratospheric ozone will lead to a two percent increase in the incidence of these
cancers.” Thus, if the ozone depletes by ten percent over a certain time period, 250,000
more people would be affected by these cancers each year (Nilsson, 81).
Due to controversy in the scientific community, it is difficult to clearly state whether or
not ozone depletion will lead to an increased risk of skin cancers, but scientists agree on
the fact that UV-B radiation plays a large role in the formation of cancer. Thus, it may
very well be that as the “UV filter” we call the ozone layer thins, the increased amount of
UV-B radiation posed on human skin may contribute to an increased amount of skin
cancer. Yet, one can only weigh all the evidence and speculate, for science has yet to
provide a “cut and dry” answer for society to base its judgments on.


V. Ozone depletion and immuno-suppression

Ozone depletion is also suggested to cause immuno-suppression. This theory was first
explored in the 1960s when guinea-pigs, who were exposed to an allergen, showed a
lowered immune system response after they had been irradiated with UV (Nilsson, 101).
In addition, another study showed that UV radiation had the same effect on animals as X-
ray treatment and chemical immuno-suppression. Logically, all three factors suppressed
the immune system.
Scientists Edward de Fabo and Frances Noonan conducted a study to investigate exactly
which portion of the UV spectrum has the power to suppress the immune system. In this
experiment, de Fabo and Noonan employed filters that were able to separate UV radiation
wavelength by wavelength. They subjected mice to UV rays and measured the effects at
precise intervals on the UV range. “When de Fabo and Noonan started to match the parts
of the spectrum that gave the most immuno-suppression with the absorption spectra of
different compounds in the skin, they found an almost perfect match – UCA, the
compound previously thought of as sunscreen (Nilsson, 102).” Nilsson (107) describes
urocanic acid (UCA) as antenna-like because it attracts UV rays. When UV radiation hits
the skin, it causes UCA within the skin to change molecular structure from trans-UCA to
cis-UCA. This transformation interacts with a number of cells in the skin and sends a
signal to the immune system, causing it to hinder its reaction. If the UVA has caused
damage to the DNA, then the possibility exists for a cancer growth (See Figure 8).

Figure 8: UV radiation causes the transformation of trans-UCA to the form cis-UCA,

damaging DNA and causing the immune system to suppress.


VI. What about other illnesses?

Like immuno-suppression and skin cancer, science is not able to provide society with a
confident answer to the question: Will the depletion of the ozone layer cause an increased
number of cataract cases? Cataracts are a condition that begin with blurry vision and in
some cases, develop into blindness. It has been proven that UV light can damage the
DNA, membranes, and proteins in the eye, and in animal studies, this damage has
resulted in scattered light and the formation of opaque areas in the eye. It was estimated
by the Environmental Effects Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme that
for each percent decrease in ozone, the number of people developing blindness would
increase by approximately 100,000 to 150,000 people (Nilsson, 113). However, this
estimation was contradicted by a team of Dutch scientists, who stated, “it is not
scientifically justifiable to quantify the effects of UV radiation on the eye, if such effects
are present under normal circumstances” (Nilsson, 113). The UNEP then published an
updated statement and included information that poor diet and diseases, such as diabetes,
also contribute to cataract development. Thus, it must be recognized that cataracts can
result from poor nutrition, poor hygiene, and diabetes, and not solely from increased UV
Research has been conducted to investigate a link between cataracts and UV radiation.
Some epidemiological studies have shown that UV-B radiation and formation of cataracts
do have a positive relationship. For example, a study conducted with Chesapeake Bay
fishermen asked these fishermen to disclose whether or not they wore sunglasses while
working and during outdoor recreational activities. Then, radiation measurements were
taken throughout the area to probe for a correlation. The results of this study showed a
“weak positive dose-response relationship with UV-B exposure” (Nilsson, 117). Thus, in
this study, one would argue that increased UV radiation would lead to increased rates of
cataracts. Many other studies have been conducted to examine this phenomenon, and
none have shown a strongly correlated causal relationship between UV-B and cataracts,
but many suggest the possibility of a relationship. In summary, there is again no “cut and
dry” answer explaining what will happen to the number of cases of cataracts as the ozone
layer depletes, but when one examines the effects of UV-B radiation on the eyes, it is
suggested that ozone depletion is likely to increase one’s risk of developing cataracts.
A short-term health problem that will increase as the level of ozone decreases is
“snowblindness” or “welder’s arc flash.” This phenomenon is a result of sunburn of the
conjunctiva and cornea and is “characterized by blurred vision, severe pain, photophobia,
profuse tearing, and eyelid spasms” (Ozone.org, 1998). The condition occurs after
exposure to UV-B radiation and does not result in permanent damage. The symptoms
usually vanish after a few days. It is obvious to recognize the controversy surrounding
theories which state that depletion of the ozone layer causes health problems. While one
resource may provide the reader with one answer, the next source may provide the
opposite theory. It is evident that UV radiation causes various health problems, but what
is not so clear is to what degree a depleting ozone layer will magnify the occurrence of
these problems.
VII. Ozone depletion: Not a farmer’s best friend.


Another common, yet, highly debated concern with regards to the depleting ozone layer
is crop and plant damage. As it has been well stressed, depletion of the ozone layer
results in higher UV-B radiation on the earth’s surface. Ironically, while plants use light
as their main fuel for growth, a delicate balance must be achieved in order for the plant to
survive. If a plant is exposed to too much UV radiation, the DNA of the plant may
become damaged due to penetration of harmful UV radiation into sensitive areas of the
plant. UV radiation also causes problems in the photosynthetic machinery by hampering
the photosynthesis process, the cell membrane by altering the transportation of essential
potassium, and the cell’s skeleton by affecting cell growth and morphology. With this
information taken into account, it would seem logical that increased UV radiation from
the depleting ozone layer would lead to plant damage. However, it is not that simple.
Some plants actually employ a mechanism that allows them to protect themselves from
UV damage. Thus, research suggests that if ozone depletion became serious enough, the
plants without the protective mechanisms would die out, but the plants with these
mechanisms would be able to replace the extinct plants, and not affect the level of
productivity in the ecosystem (Nilsson, 54). Thus, much depends on which plants
To further investigate the affect of UV radiation on plants, experiments have been done
to study the effects of UV-B levels on crop yield (Nilsson, 52). The results concluded
that in approximately 50% of the crops, an increased UV-B level lead to a decrease in
crop yield. Specifically, the corn yield was reduced by 28 percent; and beans, squash,
and various forms of peas were also found to be sensitive to UV-B radiation. One would
logically conclude that the depletion of the ozone layer would lead to a reduction in the
yield of crops. However, science may offer a solution by being able to breed crops that
are resistant to UV radiation.
The answer to the question of decreased crop yield and existence of plants as a result of a
thinning ozone layer is not scientifically definitive. However, it is important because if
the ability of plants to intake carbon dioxide and regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in
the air is altered, the consequences for society are detrimental.


VIII. Collaborative Global Government Efforts

As a result of the many concerns that a thinning ozone layer poses to society and the
environment, the U.S. government and many international agencies have been relatively
active in attempting to monitor, regulate, and solve the problem. Perhaps the most well
known acts to help control the depletion of the ozone layer were the Montreal Protocol,
and the London Ozone amendment to the Montreal Protocol. On September 14, 1987,
delegates from 43 countries met to discuss threats of the thinning ozone layer. After
much discussion, the delegates agreed to halt production and consumption of CFCs at
1986 levels by the year 1990. In addition, nations also agreed to reduce CFCs 20 percent
by January 1, 1994 and an additional 30 percent by January 1, 1999 (Roan, 208-9). This
was known as the Montreal Protocol. Even though this protocol helped the state of the
ozone layer, the results were not significant enough. Thus, shortly after the
implementation of the protocol, in 1990, it was amended. This amendment recruited
more countries, bringing the total number involved to almost 100. The new goals were to
eliminate the use of all CFCs by the year 2000, and to help set up a fund so that
developing countries may find alternates to using CFCs. The name of this amendment
was the London Ozone Agreement. Thus, many nations recognized the need for rapid
and dramatic action in fighting the war with CFC responsible ozone depletion.


Ozone and health

Ozone in air pollution

There is a great deal of evidence to show that high concentrations (ppm) of ozone,
created by high concentrations of pollution and daylight UV rays at the earth’s surface,
can harm lung function and irritate the respiratory system.[16][23] A connection has also
been shown to exist between increased ozone caused by thunderstorms and hospital
admissions of asthma sufferers.[24] Air quality guidelines such as those from the World
Health Organization are based on detailed studies of what levels can cause measurable
health effects.
A common British folk myth dating back to the Victorian era holds that the smell of the
sea is caused by ozone, and that this smell has “bracing” health benefits.[25] Neither of
these is true. The characteristic “smell of the sea” is not caused by ozone, but by the
presence of dimethyl sulfide generated by phytoplankton, and dimethyl sulfide, like
ozone, is toxic in high concentrations.[26]
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed an Air Quality index
to help explain air pollution levels to the general public. 8-hour average ozone
concentrations of 85 to 104 ppbv are described as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”, 105
ppbv to 124 ppbv as “unhealthy” and 125 ppb to 404 ppb as “very unhealthy”.[27] The
EPA has designated over 300 counties of the United States, clustered around the most
heavily populated areas (especially in California and the Northeast), as failing to comply
with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Health Effects of UV Radiation
Overexposure to UV radiation is the main cause of skin cancer. UV rays can trigger the
development of skin cancer by creating changes in the cells of the skin. In some cases,
the UV rays cause direct damage to the cells. Tans and sunburns, for example, are both
signs that UV rays have damaged the skin. In other cases, UV rays can cause skin cancer
indirectly, by weakening the immune mechanisms in skin and the rest of the body.
Most often, skin cancer is the result of overexposure to UV rays from the sun. There are
three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant
melanoma. The last one can be fatal if not treated early. Many studies of skin cancer


show links between malignant melanomas and an individual’s intolerance to sun

exposure. The studies indicate that people who have suffered severe and frequent
sunburns during childhood are at greater risk of developing melanoma. The features most
closely associated with intolerance to sun exposure include fair or freckled skin, blue
eyes, and light-coloured or reddish hair.
The two other types of skin cancer tend to develop later in life on areas of skin that have
been exposed repeatedly to the sun, such as the face, neck, or hands. Basal and squamous
cell carcinomas progress slowly and rarely cause death because they usually do not
spread to other parts of the body.
Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation has also been linked to a number of other health
effects, including sunburns, cataracts, premature aging of the skin, and weakening of the
immune system.
Minimizing Your Risk
There is no quick fix for the ozone layer. Once they get into the environment, ozone-depleting chemicals
disintegrate very slowly, so they are likely to be with us for a long time. While governments around the world
deal with the source of the problem, it is important to take steps to avoid overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.
These guidelines will help you protect your family from the sun’s harmful rays:
• Seek shade if you are taking part in outdoor activities when the UV index is three
or higher.
• Cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, gloves, and a broad-brimmed hat
or visor. Avoid see-through clothing when possible.
• Avoid sunbathing for the purpose of tanning, especially between 11:00 a.m. and
4:00 p.m. in the summer when the sun’s rays are strongest.
• Use sunscreen lotion and reapply it often, as directed on the label. Look for a
“broad spectrum” sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
• Wear sunglasses that screen out ultraviolet radiation. Your eyes have no built-in
defence against the sun, and damage to the eye from UV rays can lead to
• Do not think you are safe just because the sky is cloudy. The sun’s harmful rays
can get through fog, haze, and light cloud cover.


Children Need Extra Protection

Children and teenagers have more sensitive skin than adults, so they need extra protection
if they are going to be out in the sun for a long time. Sunburn may increase the risk of
skin cancer later in life, so it is best to get children used to wearing protective clothing
and sunscreen lotion from the start.
At the very least, young children should wear a sunhat, T-shirt, and shorts. When you put
sunscreen on children, pay special attention to the parts that are most exposed, including
their ears, face, neck, shoulders and back, knees, and the tops of their feet. Avoid using
sunscreen on babies. Cover them and keep them in the shade instead.
It is important to protect against ultraviolet radiation all year round; not just in the
summer. You can continue to enjoy outdoor activities, as long as you take steps to protect
yourself when the UV index is three or higher to avoid sunburns and overexposure.


Regardless of the details of the arguments, it is obvious that the depletion of the ozone
layer is a serious problem that poses many consequences to society. Although scientific
controversy exists, the possibility seems high that the depletion of the ozone layer will
prove detrimental if action is not taken. For example, research shows the strong
possibility of a number of health risks associated with increased UV-B exposure as a
direct result of the thinning ozone layer. These health risks include skin cancer, immuno-
suppression, cataracts, and “snowblindness.”
Furthermore, the possibility that increased UV-B radiation results in lower crop yields
should provide a “wake up” call to those who feel the thinning ozone layer is not a
problem. For if we are not able to breed UV-B resistant plants, the world’s food supply
would become dramatically decreased, resulting in higher levels of famine and
Studies from Antarctica tell society that increased UV radiation can directly affect the
food chain. Recall the decrease in food supply as a result of reduced levels of
photoplankton in Antarctica. This may seem like an isolated, non-significant, and remote
problem; however, this incident illustrates the dangers of reduced food supply and
alteration of the food chain as a result of the thinning ozone layer. Even though the
photoplankton were located at the bottom of the food chain, the whole chain was
affected. In the future, problems like this could potentially affect the global food web
and result in an overall decrease in food supply. Thus, realize that the dangers posed by
ozone depletion are real now, and will be in the future, if action is not taken.


Take Action: Teamwork does the trick

Although the earth will be able to “heal” itself if the CFC level continues to stay as it is,
the depletion of the ozone layer is still a problem that society should be concerned with.
In order for earth to repair the damage humans have posed on the ozone layer, society
must take an active role. There are many tasks individuals can involve themselves in to
help combat the problem of ozone depletion. First of all, one can simply check product
labels for ozone friendly status. Many companies have gone to great lengths to remove
CFCs from their products. These products do not do as much damage to the ozone layer,
and thus, are denoted as “ozone friendly.” A collaborative effort by society not using
products with CFCs is a major step toward the healing of the ozone layer.
Unfortunately, many products still used in society are detrimental to the ozone layer. For
example, CFCs marketed under the trade name “Freon” are used in appliances with
refrigerants such as refrigerators and air conditioners. When individuals must dispose of
products with refrigerants in them, certain actions must be taken in order to prevent the
CFCs from escaping from the disposed product. For example, when an agency, such as a
waste hauling company, comes to pick up the unwanted appliance, check to make sure
refrigerant-recovery equipment is used by the agency. This equipment allows for the
disposal of refrigerants without damage to the ozone layer.
Society can also help the problem of ozone depletion through education, as well as
through various donations. If individuals contribute time or money to environmental
agencies focused on healing the ozone layer, the agencies will be able to organize
activities promoting the understanding of the ozone problem. If society is educated
through these means, more individual efforts will be taken to make “ozone smart”
decisions such as using “ozone friendly” products.
Although thinning ozone may not directly affect the generation growing up today, future
generations depend on the actions taken now. Thus, it is important for society to
recognize that the thinning ozone layer is a problem and to take action in order to ensure
the safety and survival of future generations.


The ozone layer is essential for protecting society from harmful UV radiation by acting as
a filter. However, this protective layer has been thinning due to three main sources:
human activity, natural sources, and volcanoes. Human activity is responsible for the
most damage to the ozone layer, thus, society should recognize that much can be done to
prevent ozone layer damage.
In 1985, in a region over Antarctica, the yearly polar vortex had caused the ozone layer to
deplete so greatly, that it could be classified as a hole. In 1996, this hole was large
enough to cover Antarctica.
The depletion of the ozone layer does not come without problems. Scientific research
has suggested the probability that increased UV-B radiation as a result of the thinning
ozone layer leads to increased cases of skin cancer, immuno-suppression, cataracts, and
“snow blindness” due to radiation damage of the DNA. Additionally, experiments have
shown a correlation between increased UV radiation and crop damage due to UV
radiation damaging the plants’ DNA. Some scientists, however, feel that this will not be
a problem in the future due to the possibility of breeding UV resistant crops and plants.
Many national governments and agencies recognized the problem of ozone depletion, and
therefore, united in 1987 to sign the Montreal Protocol. This agreement was
implemented to decrease CFC levels in order to help protect the thinning ozone layer.
Clearly, ozone depletion is a dangerous problem due to possible disease outbreaks and
famine as a result of increased UV-B radiation. However, society can collectively
attempt to combat this problem by relatively simple means such as education and the
practice of “ozone smart” behavior. For if society acts now, future generations will be
handed a safe and healthy planet.