September 1993 (vol. 9, #6)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1993
Physicians for Civil Defense
National news media had some encouraging news about the ozone for a change.
According to a widely reported statement by James Elkins of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the harmful depletion of Earth's protective layer could stop during the next century.
The reason (shown in a study published in the August 26, 1993, issue of Nature) is that the rate of stratospheric accumulation of CFC-11 and CFC-12 is slowing to as low as 2.7 parts per trillion per year. Between 1985 and 1988, the concentrations increased by at least 11 parts per trillion annually.
Of course, a decline in the rate of increase is not exactly the same as a decline. Yet, as is shown with respect to the rate of increase of the national debt, it is cause for celebration.
One difference between debt and CFCs is that with our debt, the trillions are in the numerator, not in the denominator.
One similarity between our stratospheric level of debt and the accumulation of stratospheric chemicals is that there is a doubling time. Between 1978 and 1992, the concentration of CFC-12 (freon) increased from about 250 parts per trillion to about 500 parts per trillion.
What are the effects of a doubled concentration?
Consider the effect of doubling the concentration of vanilla extract in cake batter: from 0.2 tsp in 250,000,000 gallons to 0.4 tsp in the same volume.
Of course, we are dealing with a reputedly voracious ozone eater, not with a mild taste-bud stimulant voracious enough to consume the several tons of ozone that are produced every second or the approximately 100 million tons produced every year. (For comparison, the total annual world production of CFCs was around 750,000 tons. About 111,000 metric tons of CFCs leak out of refrigeration equipment each year, according to an EPA estimate. A small fraction ends up in the stratosphere. Note that science writers say it is difficult for Mt. Erebus to spew chlorides into the stratosphere because it does not erupt ``explosively'' and its peak is several km below the base of the stratosphere [Science 260:1582, 1993]; refrigerators are more potent.)
Exactly how does a molecule of freon go about breaking down a molecule of O3? Is there a PAC-man moiety on the molecule that sucks an oxygen atom off any hapless ozone that happens to run into it? Or does the freon act as a catalyst for the reaction of O3 with something else?
Actually, CFCs themselves do not either act as a catalyst or react directly with the O3. The mechanism, as described in the Merck Index (11th ed.) is this: ``Photodecomposition occurs in the stratosphere via absorption of UV radiation and subsequent release of atomic chlorine which can catalyze ozone breakdown.'' This hypothesis was developed by F.S. Rowland, President of AAAS, one of the foremost apologists for the ozone hole theory, and published in Nature 249:810 (1974).
How fast do the CFCs decompose? According to Elkins, et al, (Nature 364:780-793, 1993), the mean atmospheric lifetime of CFC-11 is 55 ± 8 years and of CFC-12 is 140 ± about 50 years. CFCs are so stable that they are actually being used as tracers to follow ocean currents.
In her book Environmental Overkill, Dixy Lee Ray asks: ``If freon breaks down and releases its chlorine in the stratosphere, what happens to the rest of the molecule?'' She states that no breakdown products of CFCs have ever been detected in the stratosphere, although at least 192 chemical reactions and another 48 photochemical reactions have been identified there. In his recent article, Elkins makes no mention of any CFC decomposition products.
Another question is: If freon decomposes, how come it's still there a hundred years later?
The other stratospheric reactions are discussed extensively in the August 27, 1993, issue of Science. The series of reports begins with a summary: ``A cornerstone of our understanding of polar ozone loss is the heterogeneous conversions on particles of polar stratospheric clouds of inorganic chlorine from its less reactive components....'' (CFCs of course are organic compounds.) A sufficiently cold temperature and the clouds seem to be prerequisites. CFCs are not mentioned.
The ``ozone-destroying radical'' is ClO, chlorine monoxide. Ozone destruction is proportional to the concentration of ClO, not the concentration of CFCs. One factor that increases ClO is the presence of sulfuric acid aerosols from volcanoes such as Mount Pinatubo. This eruption set off global sirens in the winter of 1991-92 (see Civil Defense Perspectives, March, 1992). The government acted with great alacrity to accelerate the phase-out of CFCs before the scientific data could be analyzed.
The ozone layer has been carefully monitored for about two decades. Previously, the threat was the supersonic transport (SST). Congress cancelled two prototypes, England and France built the Concorde, and no environmental effects were observed. The CFC crisis was a godsend to the guardians of the ozone layer (see Fred Singer in Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns ed. by Jay Lehr).
There is no evidence of a long-term global downward trend in ozone levels (see graphs K. Towe, Science 257:727, 1992 and Fighting Chance Newsletter, Sept. 1992). There is no proof that CFCs cause significant ozone destruction. Therefore, the first annual Chicken Little Award for the most original and least-substantiated catastrophe was awarded to the ``Global Ozone Depletion Hoax'' in 1993 (Chicken Little Society, PO Box 276130, Boca Raton, FL 33427).
Nevertheless, the anti-ozone-eater radicals continue to defend us. Their achievements include the removal of 450 Salvation Army drop boxes. Thanks to environmental laws, freon-filled refrigerators and air conditioners left in the boxes had to be disposed of at costs of hundreds of dollars.
The first EPA enforcement action under the Clean Air Act prohibition against CFC release brought in an $18,000 fine against a New Hampshire construction firm engaged in a demolition project.
Supermarkets are already feeling the pinch due to a shortage of CFCs. The Food Marketing Institute estimated that modification of traditional cooling systems will cost up to $20,000 per store, plus $20,000 to $40,000 for the new coolant.
The Ozone Protection Campaign of Greenpeace is fighting a proposed exemption to the Montreal Protocol to allow the continued use of CFCs as a propellant for medical inhalers. Asthma sufferers are responsible for 0.5% of the CFCs released annually in the United States; they may have to be sacrificed to ``save'' the Planet's protective shield.
The rate of increase of stratospheric CFCs may have fallen. But the rate of cost increases due to the CFC ban are only beginning to accelerate.
The Pima County Medical Society and the Arizona Medical Association proposed the following rules for enforcing regula-tions concerning the disposal of medical wastes:
A monetary penalty may be imposed on a generator of medical waste if all of the following conditions are met:
An appeals mechanism shall be established. If the penalty to be imposed involves loss of liberty or a monetary penalty greater than one-week's after-tax income (in the case of an individual) or one-week's net profit (in the case of a corporation), then the individual or entity will have the right to appeal to a court of law, in which the defendant will be accorded all the rights and protections constitutionally guaranteed to criminal defendants.
Resources shall be allocated to the enforcement of regulations concerning medical waste if the benefit gained (in terms of lives prolonged and illnesses prevented) per dollar expended exceeds the benefit to be gained per dollar expended in alternate public-health endeavors: for example, improved tuberculosis screening; improved laboratory facilities for sensitivity-testing of drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates; improved micro-biologic facilities for the identification and tracking of unusual infections such as plague, food-borne illnesses, and rabies; improved testing and treatment facilities for sexually transmitted diseases; improved outreach programs for immunizing disad-vantaged children; increased personnel and facilities for monitor-ing persons infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis (or at high risk for developing such resistance due to inadequate treatment), etc.
Additionally, the amount expended in enforcing medical waste regulations, along with an estimate of compliance costs incurred by medical facilities, shall be published along with estimates of resources devoted to the enforcement of the laws concerning crimes against person or property (e.g. homicide, rape, and burglary).
These regulations shall not preclude any person from seeking a remedy in civil court for an actual injury resulting from negligence in disposing of medical waste.
Construction has begun again at a Yongbyon facility believed to be a plutonium reprocessing plant (ibid.)
In mid-June, Pyongyang agreed to ``suspend'' for ``as long as it considers necessary'' its threat to become the first nation to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It stopped short of agreeing to resume international inspections. When it did allow inspections in 1992, it did not actually allow the inspectors to do their work. The US has no attractive military options. It is believed doubtful that air strikes could destroy the nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Even if they did, conventional retaliation would inflict serious damage (Intel-ligence Digest 6/2/93).
Recent reports suggest that North Korea may already have 6 or 7 operational nuclear weapons. In addition, North Korea signed a contract to sell 150 Nodong-1 missiles, with a range of more than 1300 km, to Iran (Intelligence Digest 7/23/93).
At a news conference last month in Seoul, a North Korean defector announced that Pyongyang had finished work on two of four missile bases he says would be used to target American installations in Japan and Guam.
President Clinton has offered a deal. In return for North Korea's honoring the NPT, he was willing to promise to cancel the annual US-South Korea joint military exercises, never use nuclear arms against North Korea, and support international inspection of South Korean nuclear facilities. North Korea turned down the offer (Wall St J 8/25/93).
``[L]ife on our planet is in grave danger....I. We...urge the leaders of the world at the Earth Sum-mit...to commit themselves to ending ecocide and ethnocide, and we propose the creation of an International Court of the Environ-ment modelled on the International Court of Justice at The Hague. II. 20% of the world's population consumes 80% of its wealth and is respons-ible for 75% of its pollution. We believe there is sufficient knowledge and technology available to reduce the obscene disparity of wealth....IV. Industrialized countries must make a minimum commitment to a 20% reduc-tion of their carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000 A.D. We insist on rigorous implementation of the Montreal Protocol on Protection of the Ozone Layer....V. The proven economic folly of nuclear power...necessitate[s] [its] urgent substitution by clean, safe, and efficient energy systems....If the latter half of the 20th century has been marked by human liberation move-ments, the final decade of the second millennium will be charac-terized by liberation movements among species, so that one day we can attain genuine equality among all living things.''