The planet Earth boasts a unique set of characteristics that set it apart from the other planets in our solar system and makes it conducive to the diverse amount of plant and animal life as we know it. Earth is suspended at the perfect distance from the sun that allows for temperate climates and the presence of water in all three forms, bringing precipitation.
Most importantly, Planet Earth is shielded from the harmful rays of the sun by a blanket of ozone molecules. Without this protection Earth would be exposed to the harmful UV rays of the sun. This protection has allowed life to exist in a delicate balance since time immemorial, yet human industrialization comfort is threatening this important protection.
CFC’s, or chlorofluorocarbons, are produced by several products and processes and weakens the efficacy of the ozone shield and the very survival of life on this planet. There was a time that chemical manufacturers thought CFCs were the perfect chemical compound they had been waiting for. It apparently had no toxins or odors, was not flammable and could be produced very cheaply. This caused a sudden spike in the production of a chemical that would have considerable effects on the balance of life.
The Ozone Layer and Ultraviolet Radiation
The layer of ozone that protects life on Earth from harmful solar energies protects humans from melanoma, eye conditions and cataracts. It exists high in the atmosphere about 6 to 30 miles from the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. The abundance of ozone in the atmosphere in quantities high enough to keep life safe from destructive energy, is accomplished through a delicate balance of chemical processes that work to break down and build up the ozone gasses. This depends on the quantities of reactive gasses in the atmosphere and how the light from the sun works on these compounds. This can be very different depending on the geographic location and other factors.
As the conditions that are conducive to ozone production increases the level of ozone in the atmosphere and the protection it provides also increases. When the air is filled with compounds that do not promote the formation of ozone in the atmosphere that levels of ozone and the protection diminishes as well.
Ozone molecules abound this high in the atmosphere and are comprised of three oxygen atoms. A regular oxygen molecule consists of only 2 oxygen atoms, hence O2. Under normal conditions, The UV radiation from the sun is absorbed by ozone allowing an oxygen atom to be released from the ozone molecule. This process uses up the energy of the UV rays and diminishes their damage to the life below.
UVB is the most harmful of the UV rays as it has the most pervasive effects even reaching below the surface of the ocean.
What are Chlorofluorocarbons?
Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, have been in use since the dark days of industrial progress when everything from lawn furniture to flooring options was made of carcinogenic asbestos. Being cost-effective and versatile, CFCs were soon developed and rethought until they formed an important part of the cooling and refrigeration industry. Since this time, many governments internationally have placed restrictions on these harmful compounds when they found out the environmental impact of refrigerants. Today there are various environmentally-friendly compounds that are replacing the use of CFCs.
CFCs are commonly used in refrigerants for industrial, commercial and domestic storage and air conditioning. They are also frequently found in aerosol sprays and foams of all types. CFCs are easily released into the atmosphere and being very light they float upward to the ozone layer. CFCs are made of chlorine, fluorine and carbon and when these elements contact the ozone molecules the effects are destructive.
Destructive Power of Chlorofluorocarbons in the Ozone Layer
The process of deflecting UV radiation high in the atmosphere is disrupted by the presence of CFCs. When the rising molecules of CFCs collide with the energy of the sun’s rays, they begin to react chemically. The chlorine molecule breaks away from the CFC and bombards the closest ozone molecule. As the newly released chlorine atom collides with the ozone molecule and it’s three oxygen atoms, one oxygen atom breaks away to join the chlorine atom. This leaves a perfectly formed oxygen molecule from the two remaining oxygen atoms.
The chlorine and oxygen combo will then float around for a time until they meetup with a lone oxygen atom. At this point the two oxygen atoms will form a proper oxygen molecule and the chlorine atom will be freed again to continue its devastation of the Ozone layer one ozone molecule at a time. According to the statistics held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a single chlorine atom at the right altitudes can effectively destroy as many as 100,000 ozone molecules.
The chlorines destructive power does a good job of filling the upper atmosphere with oxygen, but molecular oxygen does not form an effective barrier against the harmful UV rays of the sun. As the quantity of ozone molecules begins to diminish, so does the efficacy to protect life from harmful energies.
What are the Effects of Ozone Depletion?
CFCs can continue to damage the ozone and reduce its capacity to protect humans and life of all types from these destructive rays. In human beings and animals UVB rays have been found to interrupt the formation of DNA molecules, these contain the genetic structures needed to produce evolutionary superior offspring. While many living organisms can repair themselves and even the damage caused by solar radiation, this capacity to regenerate is based on a healthy DNA code.
When DNA chains are interrupted or damaged, the offspring produced from this DNA can be defective. This has led to conditions of genetic cancer as well as the formation of extra body features or missing limbs, digits and other deformations. It wasn’t until 1978 that the US Government issued a ban on all CFCs used in aerosols. This decision was made after several studies, some conducted by NASA, which confirmed the effects of CFCs on the atmosphere