In the 1980s and 1990s the ozone depletion was the major environmental buzzword. Everything from spray cans to sewage pumps was inspected to see how much harm it was doing to the ozone layer. In the 00s and 10s, however, the new buzzword became global warming caused by the greenhouse effect, and today most environmentalists are focusing on reducing fossil fuel usage. But has the ozone layer issue really gone away? And what is ozone, anyway? This article will provide you with an overview on the subject.

Ozone is a molecule which consists of three oxygen atoms joined together. It is a gas at room temperature and is pale blue in color. Ozone also has a sharp smell similar to bleach. Ozone is naturally found in the stratosphere in what is known as the ozone layer. This is what the environmentalists are interested in protecting, because the ozone in the upper atmosphere protects the Earth from ultraviolet (UV) rays, which cause skin cancer and eye damage in humans who are overexposed to it.

Since it is much less stable than regular oxygen (two oxygen atoms joined together), ozone in the upper atmosphere is very fragile. When nitrogen and sulfur compounds are released into the atmosphere, they combine with ozone to turn it into regular oxygen or sulfates. CFCs, also known as Chlorofluorocarbons, break these molecules most readily and have been banned since the 1980s from being used in modern construction or pressurized containers. Efforts are still underway to reduce or eliminate the pollution that causes ozone depletion.

Because of the Earth's rotation most of the ozone eating gases end up concentrated at the poles, where they eat away at the ozone layer. The effect is such that you may be exposed to a little more UV than necessary, the layer is much thinner at the poles, with a hole even being observed over the Antarctic. Even with current reductions in greenhouse gases, the hole is not likely to repair itself until 2050 and could be exacerbated by global warming.

Ozone in the ozone layer must be replenished naturally. Ozone is manufactured for use in cleaners. It is also released in car exhaust and is a byproduct in some industrial processes, but this ozone, if released into the air it will not reach the stratosphere. Instead, it will hang around in the lower atmosphere and act as a pollutant, irritating eyes, interfering with photosynthesis in plants, and contributing to the smog problem in cities. Ozone also attacks polymers and causes ozone cracking, which ruins rubber seals, gaskets, and o-rings in machinery.

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