Industrial emissions from a chemical called dichloromethane (CH2CI2) have been detected in the atmosphere, threatening to slow the reparation of the ozone which has been on the mend for at least a decade now. The chemical is commonly-used in solvent, paint remover and pharmaceutical production, to name a few, which has increased exponentially over the past few years.
The ozone layer— which protects the inhabitants of Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays— is drastically affected by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as CH2CI2, which essentially break apart upon exposure to sunlight. Chlorine atoms are then released to tangle with the chemicals in the stratosphere, dismantling any ozone molecules they come into contact with.
As reported by Science Magazine, world leaders came together in 1987 in the attempt to create an international protocol that would ban the production and use of known CFCs. However, this agreement—formally known as the Montreal Protocol—essentially ignored CH2CI2 due to the fact that it was believed the chemical didn’t stay intact long enough to do any significant damage to the stratosphere and, subsequently, ozone. This has now been proven false, as recent evidence does, in fact, suggest that CH2CI2 molecules can float up to the lowest edge of the stratosphere, which includes the ozone layer.
The chemical is responsible for double the percentage of ozone layer loss above Antarctica than it was in 2010, which now stands around 3 percent. If this substantial increase in the emission of this chemical continues, scientists believe it could delay the repair of the ozone layer in this region by nearly 30 years. If CH2CI2 emissions are held to current levels, the reparation would only be delayed by five years or so. However, current models predict that the trend of yearly increases in emissions will continue.
Though the goal of agreements such as the Montreal Protocol aims to counteract increased pollution and emissions across the board, it remains to be seen as to whether or not they will actually help return the level of chemicals poisoning our ozone layer to pre-1980 levels.
Top photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0
Lead photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0
Natalie Wickstrom is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia. She most likely wrote this piece to the tune of a movie score whilst chewing gum.