Honors for the ozone layer Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Global policy to ban harmful chemicals is affirmed.

October 23, 1995

THE SELECTION of the 1995 Nobel Prize winners in chemistry is not only a first for environmental science but a political affirmation of a controversial public policy for the world's nations.

Awarding the prize to Drs. F. Sherwood Rowland, Mario Molina and Paul Crutzen amounts to a vindication of the scientific tenet that humans can destroy natural systems that support life on Earth.

The decision to honor the two Americans and a Dutchman for their work explaining the thinning of the upper ozone layer by gases once used in spray cans and refrigerators underlines world support for the 1987 pledge by industrial nations to stop using these chemicals.

Through the 1987 Montreal Protocol, the United States and other countries are committed to end production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons by 1996, to try to reverse the gas-caused deterioration of stratospheric ozone, which shields Earth from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

International efforts continue to curb use of other ozone depleters and to aggressively develop safer replacement chemicals, even as a vocal minority fights a rear-guard action to overturn the world agreement and rely solely on the recuperative powers of Mother Nature.

The major work of the Nobel laureates in chemistry was done in the 1970s, laying a hypothetical foundation that led to detection of a large "ozone hole" over Antarctica in 1985.

Nobel Prizes in medicine and physics this year also recognize discoveries that promise hope for human advancement. Three scientists shared the award for medicine with research that shows how genes control early development of the human embryo, explaining how flaws in these genes can lead to miscarriages and birth defects. The physics prize went to two American researchers for discovering subatomic particles that underpin the theory of matter and the origin of the universe, and that promoted medical use of radioactive isotopes.

But the chemistry prize is a singular affirmation of a global decision to reverse human environmental harm and protect our Earth.

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