Sunday, April 15, 2012

International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer



By Wong Ee Lynn

September 16 was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

The ozone layer is the protective layer of naturally occurring gas, comprised of three atoms of oxygen found about 10 – 50 km above the earth's surface, that protects us from the harmful ultraviolet radiation or solar UV-B rays. Scientists in the 1970s discovered that the layer was thinning as a result of the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). In 1985, nations around the world convened at Vienna in an attempt to develop a framework for co-operative activities to protect the ozone layer. This signed agreement became known as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

More than 130,000 new cases of melanoma are reported around the world and some 66,000 people die from skin cancer every year. As such, the UNEP is still monitoring compliance with the programmes of the international treaties aimed at eliminating the production and use of ozone-depleting substances, including CFCs, used as industrial refrigerants and in aerosols, and the pesticide methyl bromide.

Here are some activities individuals, organisations and community groups can pledge to carry out from September onwards as part of ongoing global efforts to reduce ozone depletion:

1. September 22 is World Car Free Day. According to The Washington Post, the event "promotes improvement of mass transit, cycling and walking, and the development of communities where jobs are closer to home and where shopping is within walking distance", and aims to give residents of an area a feel of what their locality is like with fewer cars. Go carless on Sept 22 to explore different routes to work and to see if there are other viable and practical alternatives to driving.

2. Know the rules: It is illegal and harmful to recharge or refill refrigerators, freezers and home/vehicle air conditioners with CFCs.

3. If you have an older vehicle with an air conditioner, have it serviced by a qualified technician, and make sure the CFC is recaptured and recycled by technician who is specifically certified to do this work. If you don't use your air conditioner — or if the vehicle is about to be scrapped — make sure a qualified technician recaptures and recycles the CFC. Vehicles of model year 1995 or newer do not use CFCs. The same rules apply to older refrigerators freezers and home air conditioners, which may contain CFCs.

3. Don't buy or use portable fire extinguishers that contain halons. Halon is a compound consisting of bromine, fluorine and carbon. Bromine is many times more effective at destroying ozone than chlorine. Replace halon fire extinguishers with alternatives (e.g. carbon dioxide or foam).

4. Check labels on aerosol cans. VCR-head cleaners, boat horns, spray confetti, photo negative cleaners, and drain plungers are still allowed to contain CFCs but such labeling isn't required.

5. Minimize high altitude aircraft flights (oxygen reduction and water vapor deposition) and air travel in general.

6. If you feel strongly about this issue, write a letter to the Press or to the Department of Environment or the Minister of NRE, urging them to protect the ozone layer by tightening regulations on CFCs and halons, speeding up their elimination, mandating warning labels on products containing them, and pressing other nations to take such steps. Substitutes for CFCs may add to the cost of many products, be less efficient,, and have other drawbacks, at least at first. This may be hard to accept, especially since CFC emissions are invisible, and most of the damage they cause may not be evident for decade. But the steps we take now to protect the ozone layer will benefit future generations.

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