Eleven-year-old Tyner in Fredericton writes: "Every spring and summer I keep hearing about the ozone layer, but I don’t know what it is or what people should be doing about it. Can you explain it to me?"
I am happy to write about this important subject, Tyner.
Ozone, or trioxygen, is formed from an electrical discharge in oxygen. It is oxygen with 3 atoms rather than 2. The layer of ozone gas in the stratosphere, usually 15 to 30 km. above Earth, screens out ultraviolet radiation, thereby protecting people from skin cancer, eye cataracts, and the weakened immune systems that UV rays cause. It also protects small organisms and vegetation from genetic damage. In fact, survivability for all life depends on ozone in the stratosphere. The ozone layer is being constantly monitored by ground-based equipment as well as with instruments carried by balloons and high altitude airplanes.
We hear about ozone frequently because the ozone layer has become very thin -and humans are responsible. We have released into the atmosphere chemicals that have created large holes in the ozone cover. Some of the modern conveniences dependant on these chemicals were refrigeration, air conditioners, heat pumps, hair sprays, deodorants and cleaning solvents. In addition, spring and summer mean grass and garden care, but pesticides until very recently have consisted of major ozone-depleting chemicals
Approximately 200 countries, including Canada, have gradually banned 95 per cent of these destructive chemicals and there is a timeline for others to be phased out. Nevertheless, even with a strong global commitment to protecting and restoring the ozone layer, it will probably take another 6 decades for a safe thickness to be achieved.
In our light summer clothing and with increased sun exposure, we are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of UV radiation. We can protect ourselves and our planet by reading labels and rejecting anything containing CFCs, HCFCs, and CTCs; always using sunblock with either zinc or titanium and both UVA and UVB protection; wearing a hat; and sheltering our pets from the sun.
Despite everything though, summer is still a special season. Have a safe and happy one!