Will pollution eat away the ozone layer? Just for kids

May 06, 1999|By Lou Carlozo | Lou Carlozo,Chicago Tribune

High in the Earth's stratosphere, the ozone layer that shields our planet from the sun's harmful rays is in jeopardy. And the statistics are alarming:

In Antarctica, the ozone hole is more than twice the size of Europe. It now covers swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the southern tip of South America.That's the largest it has been since it was discovered in 1985, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

In Australia, up to three out of four people are expected to develop skin cancer. Many children now are required to wear protective hats during recess.

In America, the chances of developing the most deadly skin cancer are nearly 1 in 75. Six decades ago, the chances were 1 in 1,500.

"It's going to be at least 50 to 100 years before the ozone hole heals," said Kelly Quirke of the Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco. "What kind of planet are kids going to inherit?"

A wavelength of sunlight known as ultraviolet B (or UV-B) is especially lethal to humans. In small doses, UV-B radiation produces sunburn. In larger doses, it can cause skin cancer, cataracts or weaken the immune system.

A healthy ozone layer shields our planet from UV-B rays. But chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs) have floated into the stratosphere. These chemicals, invented in 1928, are found in air conditioners, aerosol cans and foam cups. And when CFCs hit ozone, they tear it apart.

Other chemicals such as methyl bromide can destroy ozone too. "It's a toxic pesticide used most often on strawberries and tomatoes," Quirke said. "So kids can tell their parents to buy organic (produce)."

Pub Date: 05/06/99

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