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Ozone Layer Recovering but Health Hazards Still High

Published:Thursday | September 17, 2015 | 9:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin

Despite studies indicating that the ozone layer is showing encouraging signs of recovery, Nicol Walker, head of the Ozone Unit at the National Environment Planning Agency (NEPA), is urging citizens to be mindful of health impacts that may result from overexposure to sunlight.

Speaking with The Gleaner in recognition of International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, which is celebrated annually on September 16, Walker indicated that the country has been making an effort to reduce ozone-depleting substances (Ods), however, overexposure to sunlight can be detrimental to the society.

"Jamaica has been pretty much ahead of the game in terms of phasing out the substances. What we have done is to reduce and ultimately phase out the use of ozone depleting-substances, so if you try to import one of these substances now, you will not be able to get it," she said.

"We are still encouraging persons to protect themselves from overexposure to the sun. Wear your sunscreens, sun shades, and do what you can to ensure that you reduce your exposure to sunlight as the impacts can be detrimental," she continued.

Walker's sentiments were supported by renowned dermatologist Dr Patricia Dunwell, who told The Gleaner that there was a strong correlation between the ozone layer and skin health.

"When it comes to issues with the sun and skin care, we see most patients during the summer months. I also see a lot of persons who go bird hunting and hiking. So while skin cancer is not popular here, persons are still at risk. On an average, we attend to about two to three persons per week during summer, and we see the decrease when we approach the winter months," she said.

 

Everyone at risk

"I am happy to hear that the ozone layer is recovering; it is welcome news. However, whether the ozone is depleted or not, all skin types are at risk once there is overexposure," Dunwell continued.

"We are all at risk. Caucasian persons living in the tropics, are prone not just to the pigment changes from sun damage, but increased risk of skin cancer. persons with darker skin, there is normally a change in the skin texture, so the skin now becomes leather-like. Persons living by the beach, fishermen, and persons who operate outdoors will get more damage than those who live inland because the intensity of the ultraviolet rays is greater in those areas. We all have to be careful," she said.

According to the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion 2014, in the mid-1970s, it was discovered that some human-produced chemicals could lead to depletion of the ozone layer. The resulting increase in ultraviolet radiation at Earth's surface would likely increase the incidences of skin cancer and eye cataracts, and also adversely affect plants, crops, and ocean plankton.

Following the discovery of this environmental issue, researchers sought a better understanding of this threat to the ozone layer. Monitoring stations showed that the abundance of the ozone-depleting substances was steadily increasing in the atmosphere.

However, in response to the prospect of increasing ozone depletion, the governments of the world crafted the 1987 United Nations Montreal Protocol as an international means to address this global issue. As a result, the total global accumulation of Ods has slowed and begun to decrease. Global ozone depletion is no longer increasing, and initial signs of recovery of the ozone layer have been identified.