Ozone Layer Depletion
The ozone layer is a belt of the naturally occurring gas "ozone." It sits 9.3 to 18.6 miles (15 to 30 kilometers) above Earth, and serves as a shield from the harmful ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation emitted by the sun.
Ozone is a highly reactive molecule that contains three oxygen atoms. It is constantly being formed and broken down in the high atmosphere, 6.2 to 31 miles (10 to 50 kilometers) above Earth, in the region called the stratosphere.
Today, there is widespread concern that the ozone layer is deteriorating due to the release of pollution containing the chemicals chlorine and bromine. Such deterioration allows large amounts of ultraviolet B rays to reach Earth, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts in humans and harm animals as well.
Extra ultraviolet B radiation reaching Earth also inhibits the reproductive cycle of phytoplankton, single-celled organisms such as algae that make up the bottom rung of the food chain. Biologists fear that reductions in phytoplankton populations will in turn lower the populations of other animals.
About 90 percent of CFCs currently in the atmosphere were emitted by industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States and Europe. These countries banned CFCs by 1996, and the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere is falling now. But scientists estimate it will take another 50 years for chlorine levels to return to their natural levels.