Hope, Despite Threats Against our Ozone Layer

In the late 1970s, as scientists began to study the effects of our modern lives on the ozone layer, it was discovered that the ozone above the Antarctic had developed a surprisingly large and threatening hole in it. With losing such a large part of protection from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, the threat of skin cancer-causing rays skyrocketed, so much so that people worried for the scientists down south. It didn’t take long before a treaty was made in order to establish a global agreement to combat this issue. The Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 which outlawed the chemicals scientist found to be the cause of the deterioration. This treaty banned the use of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) in popular products such as refrigerants and aerosol propellants.

The compounds that replaced the CFCs, HFCs (hydrofluorocarbon), were later found to be a strong greenhouse gas in which accelerates global warming. In 2016 The Montreal Protocol was expanded in order to cover the ban of HFCs. The great news was this ban on CFCs actually worked! Susan Solomon, an MIT atmospheric chemist, led a team to take satellite measurements of the ozone above the Antarctic. Between the years 2000 and 2015, the hole had decreased in size by 4.5 million square kilometers, leaving it at a size of 18 million square kilometers. This was a phenomenal find, especially due to Solomon’s history of being the original proposer that chlorine compounds we at fault in the 1980s. The Montreal Protocol had success in decreasing the size of the ozone cavity and was projected to fully close between the years 2060 and 2070.

Unfortunately, the good news didn’t last long. In 2018 a team monitoring the ozone discovered that it was shrinking at half the rate it previously had in years prior to 2012. Looking deeper into the issue they noticed a large number of CFCs coming from the Northeastern coast of China, specifically CFC-11. The international Environmental Investigation Agency got involved and hit the ground to investigate the sources of these harmful chemicals. Partnering up with Chinese authorities it was found that after the year 2012 there were 7000 metric tons of CFC-11 coming from China. This 110% increase only accounts for about 40-60% of the global increase over the years. These chemicals are being used in air conditioners, blowing agents in foams, insulations, refrigerants, propellants in aerosol cans, packing materials, and solvents. The variables are monitored by the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE). Due to this research being difficult to conduct, expensive, and such a long-term commitment there are not enough agencies worldwide to provide the information needed to locate the remainder of CFC-11 pollution. It’s projected that by instilling harsher punishments for offenders that the rate will go down. Agencies and officials are actively working to track down offenders by investigating manufacturing companies.

You can do your part by spreading awareness about these harmful chemicals and how one can be on the lookout for them. When purchasing air conditioners and refrigeration equipment be sure to verify that it doesn't use any HCFCs. Check the labels on aerosol products to avoid ones that may contain HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) or CFCs. Another important step to take is making sure the refrigerant in your car is correctly recycled when servicing your vehicle. If we could come together and make the right changes to fix what harmful chemicals we had leaked into the atmosphere once, then we can certainly have hope that we will be able to do it again.