Life on this planet Earth is the product of a delicate balancing act provided by nature. Mankind's very existence is totally dependent on this fragile ecosystem's ability to maintain itself. A valuable player in the balance of the environment, the ozone layer, is facing a very serious threat by man. Chloroflourocarbons (CFCs), are chemical agents commonly found in refrigerants, aerosol sprays, and in the manufacturing of Styrofoam and industrial solvents. With the rate of more than a half-million tons of CFCs being spewed into the atmosphere yearly, the rate of ozone depletion is rising at an alarming rate. If a global effort is not made to end the unnecessary use of CFCs, the inhabitants of this planet face an extremely difficult and frightening future.
CFCs were invented in Dayton, Ohio, in 1928. They were the product of an intensive search by engineers with the G. M. Research Corporation to find a safe, non-toxic, non-flammable refrigerant. Frigidaire patented the formula for CFCs in 1928 and the "new wonder gas" was named Freon. Seth Cagin and Phillip Dray, co-authors of Between Earth and Sky, inform us in their story of CFCs that "Freon soon topped the list of wonders, a 'miracle' refrigerant . . . [with the] combination of safety, cleanliness, and efficiency . . . " (66). Not only was the apparently "safe" gas being used in refrigeration, but with the innovation of air-conditioning by Willis Carrier prior to World War I, Freon would one day be used to cool our homes, automobiles, and businesses.
Other applications for CFCs soon followed. Out of the need to eliminate malaria-carrying mosquitoes during the first World War, Freon 12 was found to be an excellent propellant to distribute insecticide--thus the birth of the aerosol spray can. "From eight aerosol-related companies in the late forties, the industry grew to more than one hundred just a few years later" (Cagin and Dray 87). CFCs were soon making the lives of millions of Americans much more comfortable. They were also making the Kinetic Chemical Company, a joint corporation of General Motors and Dupont who manufactured and marketed Freon, extremely wealthy.
But in August of 1985, the entire world was informed by a group of scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center that the sky was literally falling. A NASA satellite photo revealed that a portion of the ozone layer the size of the continental United States had disappeared from the atmosphere above Antarctica. This startling information confirmed the theory of scientists that the use of CFCs were rapidly destroying the ozone layer.
Ozone is a trace gas naturally formed in the stratosphere. It forms a layer which shields the earth and its inhabitants from the deadly ultraviolet waves emitted by the sun. According to Gordon Keyes with the National Institute of Atmosphere and Water, depletion of this thin layer of ozone not only increases health risks such as skin cancer and suppression of the immune system, it may also cause a decrease in aquatic species and endanger the basic food chain of the ocean (3). The chlorine which results from the breakdown of CFCs in the atmosphere combines with other "greenhouse gases" and enhances the global warming threat. Vice President Al Gore warns of still another consideration in ozone depletion in his national best seller Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit:
Ironically, as the amount of ozone in the stratosphere declines, the extra ultra-violet radiation streaming through also interacts with the local air pollution above cities and increase the amount of smog--including the amount of low-level ozone. While ozone in the stratosphere protects us by absorbing ultra-violet radiation before it can reach the surface, ozone at ground level is a harmful pollutant that irritates our lungs (87).
There is much more at risk here than simply a severe case of sunburn. Unfortunately, the world is already witnessing the early effects of ozone...
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