Ozone Depleting Substances: Everything You Need to Know
There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge toward specific goals.
Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?
That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose. This week I want to talk about the ozone layer, its depletion and how industries specifically have had a dangerous impact on this protective upper atmospheric layer.
In 1985, for the first time, a hole was discovered in the protective ozone layer over Antarctica. Nearly a decade prior to this was the first time the negative effects of Chlorofluorocarbons and other such chemicals on the ozone layer were proven and established by scientists, leading to rudimentary and preliminary steps being taken to address and limit the use of these products. Years later, the 1985 discovery was a trigger for significant measures being taken, and the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, where signatory countries agreed to control and phase out the use of specific substances and chemicals that damage the ozone layer.
It was determined, by several environmental groups backed by scientists that the negative effects of aerosol sprays, refrigerators, air-conditioners and industrial processes were worse than previously imagined, and a landmark ban on chlorofluorocarbons was placed, replacing them with what was presumed to be more environmentally friendly: hydrofluorocarbons. However, years of discovery led to the realisation that hydrofluorocarbons are also environmentally harmful, and a 2016 amendment to the protocol led to the gradual phase-out of these as well, and the testing and search for substitutes that do not harm the physical environment has been ongoing.
What is the Ozone Layer and how does it get depleted?
The ozone layer is a gaseous upper atmospheric layer that absorbs most of the sun’s harmful UV-B radiation. It was discovered that the hole in the ozone layer was leading not only to harmful radiation reaching the biotic world and earth’s surface but also leading to severe health impacts among mankind such as increased incidences of skin cancer and cataracts. The thinning of the ozone layer is linked to the presence of CFCs, HFCs and other such substances in the atmosphere. When these chemicals interact with the UV rays in the higher depths of the atmosphere, they break down to chlorine molecules which interact with the ozone gases and cause them to break down, leading to the formation of the ozone layer gap.
Under the Montreal Protocol, certain substances have been qualified as Ozone Depleting Substances. They include:
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
- Methyl Chloroform
- Carbon Tetrachloride
Each of these substances has a different lifetime once released into the atmosphere and a differing global warming potential as well as ozone depletion potential. On the basis of these figures that are estimated and updated regularly, the chemicals are classified into different categories and accordingly, each group has different regulations to be followed when it comes to licensing and industrial use.
These chemicals are used both by industries and by consumers, because of which there was a very high proportion of these components in the atmosphere. Some of their uses relate to aerosol sprays, refrigerators, air-conditioning and industrial processing.
Limiting the use of these chemicals via the Montreal Protocol and its subsequent amendments as well as several other policies and regulations established by countries on their own has led to the ozone hole shrinking considerably. It has also been noted that these chemicals were a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect and that has reduced.
Importance of Regulation
According to the United Kingdom government website, there are specific rules for those who engage in the trade and production of Ozone Depleting Substances
- hold a licence to import or export ODS
- have a quota to import or produce ODS
- record and report ODS that you import, export, sell or destroy
- be qualified to service equipment containing ODS
- use a qualified technician to check for ODS leaks in equipment you own
- register if you need to use ODS for laboratory or analytical purposes
You must not use hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), including recycled or reclaimed HCFCs in new equipment or to service equipment, while you can still use equipment that contains HCFCs.
Industries that are affected
If your business utilises or produces any of the following systems:
- Refrigeration systems
- Air-conditioning systems
- Heat pump equipment
- Fire protection equipment;
You are a user of Ozone Depleting Substances. While we have attained significant progress towards the emergent goal of stopping the ozone hole from growing, there is still a long way to go. Not only is the use of CFCs and HFCs still permitted in several situations due to the lack of suitable environmentally safe yet functional alternatives, but these substances are also emitted by older capital devices that were set up pre-regulation, and industries need to ensure that the chemicals released by this equipment need o to be properly contained and disposed of.
While industries such as refrigeration and air-conditioning have introduced fluorinated gases (F-gases) as substitutes for CFC-based products, it has been discovered that these gases are major contributors to the greenhouse effect, and have a more significant negative impact on global warming than traditional greenhouse gases like CO2. Therefore, there is a need to counter the increased use of F-gases urgently and research needs to be undertaken to find other suitable alternatives that limit the emission of F-gases.
While HFCs do have environmentally sound substitutes, the usage of HFCs has continued to increase in industrial production as well as consumer sectors. Increased and strict limitation on the use of HFCs is crucial and needs to be urgently implemented. Many of the alternatives that have developed to CFC-based products have also emerged to be energy efficient in other aspects, making them both an economically and environmentally sound choice. Thus, similar research needs to be undertaken to find alternatives that limit the production of harmful chemicals.