Substances that contribute to the depletion of our ozone are a serious threat. Because ozone is our first line of defense against harmful UVB ultraviolet light from the sun, its decrease can lead to many serious consequences. These include a possible increase in skin cancer and other health risks, cataracts, and a decrease in plant growth.
Ozone-depleting substances (or certain chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and halons) come in various forms. These substances are commonly used in refrigerants, which are present in air conditioners and refrigerators. Luckily, authorities took notice of the negative impacts of these substances, and The Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement that began the worldwide phaseout of ozone-depleting substances (currently carried out in the U.S. through Title VI of the Clean Air Act) was enacted in 1987. However, the fight against these harmful substances is far from over.
Just last September U.S. grocery store giant, Safeway, allegedly violated the federal Clean Air Act. The company agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty, and spent approximately $4 million to reduce its emissions of ozone-depleting substances from refrigeration equipment at 659 of its stores.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbon HCFC-22, the specific substance that was said to be leaking from Safeway’s equipment, is up to 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming emissions. The allegations Safeway faced include failing to promptly repair leaks of this substance, and failing to keep adequate records of the servicing of its refrigeration equipment. In response to these allegations, the changes Safeway had committed to were expected to prevent over 100,000 pounds of future releases of ozone-depleting refrigerants.
Further plans for the U.S. to continue reducing ozone-depleting refrigerants include a production and import ban on HCFC-22 by 2020.