Our planet is protected from the sun’s harmful rays by the ozone layer. Due to human activities in past years, this layer has been badly damaged and radiation caused by ultraviolet light is passing through a hole in this layer and penetrating the Earth.
Scientists were first concerned that there was a hole in the ozone shield, way back in the seventies. The main cause for the damage to the ozone was attributed to the breakdown of the refrigerant gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These harmful substances are used in different industries, however the most common are refrigerant gases which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems and heating. Chlorofluorocarbons are also found in fire fighting equipment, aerosols, soil fumigants, styrofoam and anaesthetics. Other causes which effect the ozone layer are attributed to natural occurrences such as large volcanic eruptions and big fires which temporarily thin the ozone layer in the stratosphere.
Scientists’ concerns led to a restriction on aerosol propellants containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Great efforts were made by Governments world wide, eventually leading to the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The aim of this protocol was to reduce or completely remove substances that may damage the ozone layer. Further studies showed that the situation was more alarming than was previously predicted and between 1992 and 1994, an agreement was reached to further restrict the production of CFCs, in developed countries. Other initiatives were taken which includes banning of using certain compounds, refrigerant recycling and labelling of products. Nowadays even antiperspirant aerosols are made from gas which is not hazardous to the ozone layer.
The thinning of the ozone layer can have many repercussions since the Earth will be more exposed to harmful rays. These types of rays can cause skin cancer such as melanoma, an increased risk of people with cataracts and a weakening of the immune system of both humans and animals. Plankton in oceans, marine life and plants could be damaged while the life system can be much effected.
Because measures were taken in time, and due to various collective efforts made globally, studies show that emissions of harmful gases have been reduced. The good news is that after a number of years, the ozone has the ability to naturally heal itself if harmful emissions are stopped completely. If such efforts will continue to be made, this process could take up to about half a century more and by that time, we should see the ozone layer hole reducing in size.