Chilean scientists say they are receiving reports of increases in skin allergies and sunburn among schoolchildren and of vision loss among sheep in the southernmost areas of the country. They attribute the phenomena to increased solar radiation caused by depletion of the ozone layer over the Antarctic.
Chilean researchers said they believed that the sheep were getting cataracts from exposure to ultraviolet rays that would normally be blocked by atmospheric ozone. They also expressed their concern about the long-term impact on people and animals, although no increase in skin cancer has been reported in southern Chile.
"Human survival is at stake, and for now we are the guinea pigs," said Bedrich Magas, a researcher who found rates of ultraviolet radiation up to 28 times higher than normal.
Scientists cited U.S. satellite data indicating that the depletion was worse this year than ever, reducing the ozone layer by two-thirds over the South Pole in October. "The hole was far deeper and covered a much larger area than in previous years," said Sergio Cabrera, a biologist.
Global ozone is being destroyed gradually by man-made compounds, mainly chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, used in aerosol sprays, solvents, air conditioners and refrigerators.