17 April 2012
Chlorofluorocarbons and Their Environmental Footprint Beginning in the early 1930’s Chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFCs were introduced to the world as a safe way to refrigerate food, insulation, and propellants of common aerosol sprays such as hairspray. At one point in the mid 1960’s, these CFCs were being massed produced in many developed countries such as Japan and the United States. These gases made it possible for people to have air-conditioning in their automobiles, improved refrigeration at home, and easy to use hairspray cans. What people were unaware of at the time, however, was the significant impact these CFCs had on our climate and more specifically the ozone layer. These were thought to be harmless gasses, but thousands of miles up into the earth’s atmosphere they actively worked to deplete the ozone layer. Oblivious to this fact for over forty years, people did not discover their role in the depletion of the ozone layer until 1974. Since then, universal protocols were developed to phase out the CFCs, and eventually they were made obsolete with the development of environmentally safer alternatives. Nobel Prize winner Mario Molina and his colleges released information in a nature journal detailing the effects of the chlorofluorocarbons on the stratosphere, and more specifically the ozone layer. The year was 1974 and the CFCs that were produced over forty years prior had become a mainstay in their society. Many manufacturers and producers of refrigerants were skeptical of his findings as this ground breaking information would certainly do harm to their business. Two years later, however, people began to realize that they needed to set their selfishness aside and do what was best for our civilization as a whole. From this point on, there was an outcry from the science community to end any production CFCs.
Chlorofluorocarbons are made up of carbon, chlorine and fluorine atoms. Initially this simple structure was viewed as one of the major advantages of using CFCs. What was once to be viewed as the strength of these CFCs was later found to be the reason why they are dangerous to the atmosphere, and to our survival as a species. Because these gases are inert or they have a complete valence shell, they are not actively reacting with other atoms and gases in our atmosphere. When the CFCs rise and enter the Stratosphere, they are bombarded with UV radiation. After these events, the Chlorine atoms that were virtually harmless in the troposphere are stripped from the Fluorine and Carbon atoms. The Chlorine atoms are now ozone eating death atoms that are capable of depleting the ozone layer for hundreds of years.
In 1985 Joseph Farman, Brian Gardiner, and Jonathan Shanklin were the first to discover the hole in ozone layer. This hole was found over the continent of Antarctica, and its discovery had an astounding impact on the world. Only two years after the three men discovered the hole, a treaty known as The Montreal Protocol was adopted worldwide with 193 countries agreeing to ratify the treaty. The aim of this treaty was to set a timetable to drastically reduce the production of the CFCs but later discoveries brought changes to the treaty. Other similar substances were added to the list of substances to be banned and phased out in the same timeframe.
The importance of reducing our dependency on these harmful substances and eventually completely banning these harmful substances cannot be measured or quantified.