Chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFCs, are a type of synthetic organic compound made of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine atoms. They were used as refrigerants, propellants in aerosol cans, and solvents. However, CFCs have been identified as one of the most significant contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer- crucial for protecting life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
When CFCs are released into the atmosphere, they rise into the stratosphere and react with the ozone layer. CFCs break down ozone molecules, which reduces the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. This allows more ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the Earth's surface, which can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and other health problems.
The depletion of the ozone layer also affects the environment by altering the Earth's climate and damaging crops (decreasing yield and impacting the production of food) and aquatic ecosystems (UV radiation can damage the DNA of marine organisms, such as coral reefs leading to mutations and reduced survival rates). CFCs are also potent greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. They trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to rising temperatures and changing weather patterns.
To mitigate these harmful impacts of CFCs, the United Nations created the Montreal Protocol, which was signed in 1987. Its purpose is to phase out the production and consumption of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. The phase-out of CFCs has been successful, and the ozone layer is showing signs of recovery. However, it will take several decades for the ozone layer to recover fully, and we must remain careful to make sure that CFCs are not reintroduced into the atmosphere.