Ozone theory has holes

Last Friday a story in the Arizona Daily Star: “Asthmatics must switch to costlier ‘green’ inhalers” notes that asthmatics will no longer be able to purchase inexpensive inhalers because the propellant contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which the FDA thinks harm the ozone layer. The FDA said that patients who use the epinephrine inhalers (cost about $20) will need to switch by Dec. 31 to albuterol inhalers which cost $30 to $60.

Besides asthma, it seems these people will also suffer from bad science and over-zealous regulation.

Ozone (O3, a variant of the oxygen molecule O2) produces smog when it is at ground level, but high in the atmosphere, ozone protects us from Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the Sun.

Back in 1956, scientists noticed that the atmospheric ozone layer seasonally thinned over the South Pole. The size of the ‘hole’ varied from year to year. The reigning theory as to the cause of this ‘hole’ was that CFCs reacted with the ozone and caused its destruction leaving us vulnerable to UV radiation. This theory led to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty promoted by the United Nations. It went into effect in 1989 and required a phase-out of all CFCs which, at the time were used mainly in refrigerators, air-conditioning units, and to a lesser extent, as propellants for inhalers.

The alleged science behind this ban, according to Wikipedia, is this:

In 1973 Chemists Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, then at the University of California, Irvine, began studying the impacts of CFCs in the Earth’s atmosphere. They discovered that CFC molecules were stable enough to remain in the atmosphere until they got up into the middle of the stratosphere where they would finally …be broken down by ultraviolet radiation releasing a chlorine atom. Rowland and Molina then proposed that these chlorine atoms might be expected to cause the breakdown of large amounts of ozone (O3) in the stratosphere. Their argument was based upon an analogy to contemporary work by Paul J. Crutzen and Harold Johnston, which had shown that nitric oxide (NO) could catalyze the destruction of ozone.

In other words, the catalytic reaction of CFCs on ozone was hypothesized based on “might be expected” and by “analogy.” However, there still is no proof that it actually happens in nature on a large scale.

ozone1The first chink in the CFC-ozone hypothesis came in 2007 with an article in Nature: “Chemists poke holes in ozone theory.” Chemists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that the rate of photolysis (light-activated splitting) of CFCs was much slower than had been assumed. This means: “The rapid photolysis of Cl2O2 is a key reaction in the chemical model of ozone destruction. If the rate is substantially lower than previously thought, then it would not be possible to create enough aggressive chlorine radicals to explain the observed ozone losses at high latitudes.”

So, if it’s not CFCs, what might be causing the variation in ozone? A possible answer was presented by researcher Qing-Bin Lu (University of Waterloo, Canada) in Physical Review Letters of the American Physical Society, 19 March 2009:

This Letter reports reliable satellite data in the period of 1980–2007 covering two full 11-yr cosmic ray (CR) cycles, clearly showing the correlation between CRs and ozone depletion, especially the polar ozone loss (hole) over Antarctica. The results provide strong evidence of the physical mechanism that the CR-driven electron-induced reaction of halogenated molecules plays the dominant role in causing the ozone hole.

Independent research from Cornell, published in 2010, also found a correlation between cosmic rays and the size of the ozone ‘hole.’

The FDA’s basis for banning the inhalers is not supported by current science, so asthmatics will suffer even more from the expense to pay for an eco-fad. And really, even if CFCs do impact ozone, how much CFCs come from inhalers?

Note: The ozone is produced by UV rays breaking down oxygen. Ozone thinning normally occurs in winter when sunlight and UV rays disappear allowing the normally unstable ozone to decay. The amount and extent of decay apparently depends on cosmic ray flux.

See also:

Antarctic ozone hole may have larger role in climate change

CERN experiment confirms cosmic ray effect on climate

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4 comments

  1. Odd isn’t it the alleged “hole” in the ozone is only in the Antarctic? Curious too, if ozone is produced by sunlight, that for long periods there is very little sunlight at both the Arctic and Antarctic. Could this be the reason for the thinning? Why then does only the Antarctic have so much thinning? Both poles should be similarly affected. Is there something not mentioned?  Aha! Active volcanos emitting chlorine and other gasses down there.  But knowing that takes away the fright factor and the reason for more government control.

  2. As any hot air balloonist will tell you the popular notion that heat rises is not true. Rather
    cold air displaces warm air up. It is the cold air that moves, not the warm.

    Ozone O3 is made in the upper atmosphere as free oxygen molecules are reformed by the sunlight into 03. The transition makes the bluish heavy gas warm.The amount of O3 created fluctuates with the amount of sunspots on the sun. We are yet another 11 year peak, of sunspots, 1989 was the peak of the 11 year and 100 year cycles

    The Arctic and antarctic are different than everywhere else on earth, because they both get 6 months of darkness, during their winter. The Amazing amount of ice at the antarctic produces a cold air vortex that pushes cold air out from Antarctica so that it forms a wall of cold, sailors have noted that when sailing to Antarctica you can wear shorts and t-shirt until crossing a clouded line on the ocean and the temperature plummets to parka weather.

    Because of the sunspots less Ozone is being produced the last few years, and despite what you’ve heard about global warming the ice in the arctic plentiful enough to also form a polar vortex of cold air. The cold air during the 6 months of darkness expands and expands and pushes the warm ozone away forming a hole.

    What you are not being told is the hole in the arctic and the antarctic collapse as soon as the sun rises again and heats the air. Although sometimes as the sun rises and the hole is dissipating (it takes a few days to a week) the cold air spreads over very northern lands causing a high UV exposure threat

  3. Very good article on Ozone. I may add that the half life of Ozone is 30 minutes and does clean the air as well…sort of the same reasons we percolate Oxygen in a fish tank to replenish the O2 in the water. Blaming Ozone on inhalers is poor science and too much politics…

  4. Thank you for a great article! As a lifelong asthmatic, to me the banning of Primatene Mist is simply a death sentence. Not only can I not afford doctors and prescription medication, the alternatives simply don’t work nearly as well. HFA (the alternative to CFC propellents) does not deliver medication to the lungs (especially when you can’t breathe) and albuterol simply doesn’t work as well as epinephrine. 
    To add insult to injury,  many of our so-called ‘alternatives’ actually INCREASE YOUR ODDS OF DYING FROM ASTHMA. See advair.com for example, right there on their own homepage. 
    And so the eco-freaks gloat over a victory for their imaginary ‘mother earth’ while living beings slowly suffocate.  Great job, you sick ****s.

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