On September 21, 2007, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer met for the nineteenth time at a United Nations sponsored summit. Two hundred countries met to revise a treaty first signed in 1987 to phase out and eliminate substances containing bromine and chlorine, the agents that have been determined to have a disastrous impact on the life-protecting ozone in the Earth's stratosphere.
In 1974, scientists Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina published an article in the journal "Nature" which gave the world a new understanding of the role certain compounds have in the decomposition of the ozone layer. Those substances which had been useful and thought to be safe in various valuable functions came under new scrutiny.
The ozone layer which is also called the stratosphere is about six to ten miles above the Earth's atmosphere and extends thirty miles beyond. Ozone (O3) and oxygen(O2) together protect our Earth from the harmful ultraviolet rays UVB and UVC. Exposure to these harmful rays causes skin cancer, cataracts, damage to plants, and damage to eco systems.
Studies in atmospheric chemistry and the formation and decomposition of ozone by Rowland, Molinda, and Paul Crutzen won them the 1995 Nobel prize in chemistry. Many other scientists have contributed to our knowledge of the ozone layer, but their studies have given impetus to the mission of the Montreal Protocol.
Those substances being phased out are: chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons, halons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform. Because they have been used in so many applications, it will take a concerted effort and commitment to eradicate their use. But advances are being made through this international agreement.
The year 2030 is the projected date for complete phase-out. The Multilateral Funds for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol has been set up and funded by the United States and other countries to assist underdeveloped nations to comply with this expensive process.
Developed countries are expected to phase out the use of these substances by the year 2020, according to the agreements of the nineteenth meeting. Attendees also agreed upon the goal to significantly decrease the use of methyl bromide in critical uses and to accelerate the HCFC phase out.
To address the problem of illegal importation and exportation of these substances, the operation dubbed Project Sky Hole Patching has been implemented.
What industries will be effected? These substances have been used for propellants such as in aerosol cans and inhalers, in foam blowing, in refrigerator and freezer systems, to clean electrical components, to fumigate for rodents, as dry cleaning solvents, and in fire extinguishers.
How has the industrial and business world addressed these new restrictions and warnings?
To mention a few:
1. Refrigeration companies are in the process of or have already eliminated the use of these substances in their products.
2. Sears is teaming up with the Environmental Protection Agency in a program called the Responsible Appliance Disposal System. It's estimated that Americans dispose of about ten million refrigerators yearly. Sears hopes to collect one million and dispose of them in an environmentally safe method preventing emissions of ozone depleting substances and green house gases contained in these older models.
3. Eclipse Aviation has developed a new fire retardant called Phostrex to replace fire retardants containing ODS's.
4. Auto technicians and air conditioning technicians are required to be license to replace freon in a safe manner.
5. Elimination of the use of these chemicals in the dry cleaning industry is moving forward.
How can citizens help to heal the ozone layer?
1. Dispose of waste including old appliances in a responsible manner. Call local agencies if unsure how to do this.
2. Read packaging labels. Don't buy products containing any of these harmful chemicals.
3. Learn as much as possible about how these substances impact the environment.
4. Vote for leaders who have a history of making choices pro environment.
5. Support education since it is clear that our children must become inventors, chemists, biologists, and honorable business leaders so our Earth has a healthy future.
Although some of the effects of the use of these substances has already become apparent, the full impact may not be known for some years to come as these ODS's slowly make their way into the stratosphere. Scientists are encouraged, nevertheless, that over time the ozone layer will heal if we eliminate use of these substances and continue to monitor changes.