International Ozone Day

Date released: Sep 14 2007

2007 has been designated as International Year of the Ozone Layer, in recognition of the 20th anniversary of one of the most successful global environmental agreements. This Sunday, 16th September marks International Day for Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

Commenting, Dr Gerry Byrne, EPA Programme Manager said, “It is a credit to regulators, international business and the industrial community that such success has been achieved in phasing out the chemicals that damage the ozone layer. This goes to show that global environmental agreements can work, when full commitment is given by all players to a common goal”.

The general public can be confident that the products they use, such as aerosol sprays, are no longer damaging the ozone layer. This has been the case for some time, since chemicals such as CFCs have been banned from use as aerosol propellants, refrigerants and in the production of foam. With a number of limited exceptions, ozone depleting substances have also been phased out of use in fire extinguishers, pesticides, fridges and freezers and in industrial processes.

The importance of the ozone layer
The ozone layer is found about 25km above ground level, in an area of the atmosphere known as the stratosphere. It plays an important role in filtering out most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. This prevents them from reaching the Earth’s surface, helping to protect against skin damage such as cancer and negative effects on eco-systems. Damage to the ozone layer has resulted in increased exposure at ground level to ultraviolet radiation. Although ozone depletion is most evident in the southern hemisphere, it has also had effects in the northern hemisphere, leading to increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation in Europe.

Dr Gerry Byrne said, “Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is not limited to sunny places, it can occur also in climates like ours, where 80-85% of the sun’s rays can pass through cloud. This is important to remember, given that skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland”.

The good news
Global action to combat ozone depletion began in earnest in the 1980s, following claims from scientists dating back to the previous decade. Such claims linked groups of chemicals with depletion of the ozone layer, including CFCs, HCFCs, halons and others. In 1987 a global agreement was reached with the signing of the Montreal Protocol. The spirit of the Montreal Protocol is the control and phase out of production and use of the substances responsible for ozone depletion. The European Community responded to its obligations by publishing a Regulation on substances that deplete the ozone layer. There has been a high degree of success with the Montreal Protocol, with a 95% phase-out in the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances since its introduction.

The success of the Montreal Protocol has also had parallel benefits for global warming. Substances that have an Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP) also have a Global Warming Potential (GWP) and therefore any reduction in emissions of ozone depleting substances has undoubtedly made important contributions towards combating climate change.

Dr Byrne said, “Positive action must now be taken to ensure that other global environmental agreements enjoy similar success. This is especially so in the area of climate change, where the Kyoto Protocol has been in place since 1997 and new agreements are currently in negotiation”.

According to the latest information available to the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation, the ozone layer over mid-latitudes (30º - 60º North and South) should recover naturally by about 2049, while over the Antarctic, recovery is likely to take until 2065. Recovery means the condition of the ozone layer returning to pre-1980 levels. Although this is somewhat later than previously thought, the trends indicate that measures introduced as a result of the Montreal Protocol have been effective.

Dr Byrne commented, “While good success has been achieved under the Montreal Protocol, the scientific evidence clearly illustrates that there is no room for complacency. We must maintain the momentum to ultimately achieve full phase out of all remaining ozone depleting substances”.

Next steps
Although 95% of the ozone depleting substances have been phased out, work is continuing to ensure that the momentum is not lost in phasing out the remainder. For example, halon is still permitted to be used on board aircraft for fire protection and by airport fire fighting crews. Alternatives will need to be approved internationally before the aviation sector can achieve full phase out of halons. Similarly with other sectors and substances, research is ongoing internationally to approve reasonable alternatives with the ultimate aim of completely phasing out ozone depleting substances.

Dr Byrne said, “The EPA, as the Competent Authority in Ireland, will continue to work with the affected sectors to maintain awareness and ensure full and effective compliance with the legislation and the spirit of the Montreal Protocol”.

ENDS

Further information: Niamh Leahy, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours)

 
Editor’s notes:


Ozone depleting substances
Ozone depleting substances include the groups of chemicals listed in the table below. Ozone depleting potentials are assigned to each chemical relative to the compound CFC-11, which has an ODP of 1.

Ozone depleting substances

Typical use

Ozone depleting Potential (ODP)

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

Refrigerants, aerosol propellants, foam blowing agents

1

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)

Refrigerants, aerosol propellants, foam blowing agents, solvents, feedstock in chemical processes

0.520 – 0.010

Halons

Fire prevention and control

3 – 10

Carbon tetrachloride

Solvents, feedstock in chemical processes

1.1

1,1,1-trichloroethane

Solvents

0.1

Methyl bromide

Pest control and fumigation

0.6

Bromochloromethane

Solvents

0.12

Hydrobromofluorocarbons

Fire prevention and control

0.1 – 7.5


Competent authority in Ireland
The Environmental Protection Agency, as the competent authority, is responsible for implementation and enforcement of the legislation on ozone depleting substances. This includes the European Regulation (EC) No. 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer and Irish regulations, the Control of Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 281 of 2006). The Department of Agriculture and Food, the Revenue Commissioners (Customs Division) and the Maritime Safety Directorate are also assigned official responsibility for certain aspects of the legislation, and to assist the Environmental Protection Agency as the competent authority.

Montreal Protocol
The Montreal Protocol is the legal and institutional basis of the ongoing international effort to protect the ozone layer that was begun in the 1970's. The Protocol came into effect on 1 January 1989. Parties to the Protocol agreed to freeze their production and consumption of CFCs and halons within seven months of the Protocol’s entry into force, and to reduce consumption of CFCs by 50% within 10 years. Developing countries were given a period of grace of 10 years. The Protocol was signed by 24 countries and was ratified by Ireland on 16 December 1988. The European Community is a Party and each Member State is also a Party to the Montreal Protocol.

European Regulation
The European Regulation 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer is currently being reviewed by the European Commission. Any revised regulation is likely to be more strict than the current one and will take into account new substances that may be brought under the control of the Montreal Protocol in the future. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are actively contributing to the review of the Regulation.

Irish links in ozone protection
Early links between ozone depletion and CFCs in the atmosphere were made in Ireland. The famous English scientist Dr. James Lovelock began taking measurements in the 1970s of CFCs in the atmosphere at his family’s holiday cottage in the village of Adrigole in West Cork, where he discovered the link between CFCs and their damaging effect on the ozone layer. In 1978 the holiday cottage at Adrigole became the site of the first station of what was to become a global atmospheric monitoring network, with other monitoring stations located in Barbados, Oregon, Samoa and Tasmania. These monitoring stations have continued to successfully monitor the atmosphere ever since. Ireland still hosts one of these five monitoring stations, but it is now located in Connemara.

Ozone Hole
A record-breaking ozone hole was observed over Antarctica in 2006. From 21st to 30th September 2006 the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles.

Links:
Environmental Protection Agency – Ozone Depleting Substances
http://www.epa.ie/whatwedo/advice/air/ods/

European Commission – Ozone Later Protection
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ozone/index.htm

United Nations Environment Programme - Ozone Secretariat
http://ozone.unep.org/

World Meteorological Organisation – Global Atmosphere Watch
http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/arep/gaw/gaw_home_en.html