Do CFCs Really Cause Ozone Depletion?

How many individuals have lost money and jobs over theoretical ozone depletion? Why have natural variations never been considered as a possible reason for seasonal ozone loss? With ozone (O3) depletion, millions were (and are) convinced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and certain brominated compounds (Halons), were responsible. Due to their theorized Ozone Depletion Potential (ODS), the most stable non-toxic refrigerants, and safest halogenated fire retardants, were phased out of production.

Few have tried to estimate the collateral damage brought about by the phase-out of CFCs and Halons. There was no chemical disadvantage-toxicity, mutagenicity, atmospheric stability, flammability-of both options were excellent. In fact, when fighting fires with Halons (fire extinguisher), the extinguishing fumes could be breathed similar to oxygen for a limited period of time. No other fire retardant can claim that.

Back in the early eighties, it became possible to monitor ozone. Ozone was found to drop in the early spring of two of the coldest continents-the Arctic, and Antarctica (having the most seasonal depletion after ozone could be measured). Two rogue scientists (Roland and Molina) appeared determined to find answers to suspected ozone depletion.

atmospheric composition diagram cfc
Atmospheric Composition Diagram showing CFC transport

But from the Canadian Parliamentary Committee meeting in 1990 about ozone depletion by CFCs, several large omissions should have been obvious to the reader:

1) The first comprehensive worldwide measurements started in 1978, with the Nimbus-7 satellite. Ozone measurements weren’t made during all the eons of prior earth history.

2) The ozone layer is likely self-correcting. With less O3, more UV rays can penetrate deeper into the atmosphere, encountering a higher O2 concentration, where it forms more O3. This is a likely reason for little, if any, additional UV radiation getting to the earth’s surface.

3) Noticed ozone thinning occurred throughout the 1980s, but apparently slowed in the early 1990s. This was too soon to credit implementation of the Montreal Protocol. A 1998 World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report said, “since 1991, the linear (downward) trend observed during the 1980s has not continued, but rather total column ozone has been almost constant.” [The Sentinel – The Ozone Layer: The hole truth.]

4) More importantly, the dreaded increase in ground level UVb failed to materialize. The much-hyped acceleration in skin cancer rates never came to be. National Cancer Institute statistics show malignant melanoma incidence and mortality, which had been undergoing a long-term increase predating alleged ozone depletion, had actually been leveling off during the ozone crisis.

5) Faced with assumed UVb increases in the 1990’s, the Canadian Parliamentary Committee’s intent was to control the problem of ozone depletion. Major participants met in groups: 1) Friends of Earth (5 members), DuPont (5 members) [major CFC producer], and 3 climate scientists. The proceedings are described in Ozone And Carbon Dioxide (PDF).

6) In the meeting, DuPont said very little. They were already phasing out CFCs, and had a replacement product (HFC-134A) in preparation.

7) A few other assumptions made: a) from the start, it was assumed that UV light was a constant (not true with sunspot cycles); b) Roland and Molina demonstrated CFCs could destroy ozone in very artificial laboratory conditions, c) there was little evidence of losses of stratospheric ozone other than Antarctica, and ozone levels were found higher than pre-protocol levels in 1989; d) Protocol participants intensely focused on CFCs almost to exclusion of other possible explanations; e) bureaucracies were established, laws passed, and punishments determined for anyone caught using CFCs; f) and CFC atmospheric lifetimes seemed forgotten.

8) Cosmic Rays (CRs) from space, and those emanating during sunspot activity, seemed possible destroyers of ozone by certain scientists. Dr. Qing-Bin Lu’s latest proof of the CR theory for the ozone depletion was in Physical Review Letters on 3/19/9 [a PDF of the paper]. Dr. Lu, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada), said the fallacy was accepted for more than twenty years that Earth’s ozone layer is depleted by chlorine atoms produced by CFCs.

Lu and Sanche’s Study Suggests Cosmic Rays May Destroy Ozone: Scientific American. Results show that CR electrons are about a million times more likely to interact inside a cloud than anyone previously believed. They found evidence for their model in a laboratory simulation of the conditions found in Antarctic clouds. They cooled a metal bar to below -170 °C, and condensed water vapor and CFCs onto its surface. When they then bombarded this “cloud” with low-energy electrons (like those produced from CRs), chlorine was produced. All recent scientific research indicated Cosmic rays linked to ozone hole – Both Lu and Sanche analyzed reliable CRs and ozone data during 1980-2007, which cover two full “Schwabe” 11-year sunspot cycles. This unambiguously showed the time correlations between CR intensity and ozone depletion, especially over Antarctica [The Ozone Hole UW prof says cyclic ozone hole proves cosmic ray theory]. Qing-Bin Lu stating prior information on CFC ozone depletion emphatically (as indicated by his use of italics): “These conclusions were based on climate model simulations rather than direct observations.”

9) Stratospheric chemistry is very complex, and scientists were never sure how effective CFCs would be at destroying O3. Roland and Molina based their chlorine production and ozone destruction on climate model simulations, rather than direct observations.

The entire ozone scare orchestrated EPA’s $32 Trillion Negligible Risk (PDF). In 1992, International Refrigeration experts conservatively estimated that the ban on CFCs was going to kill 20 to 40 million people every year through hunger, starvation, and food-borne diseases. But no ecosystem, or species, was ever shown to be seriously harmed by ozone depletion. This is true even in Antarctica, where the largest seasonal ozone losses occur annually.

The real nail in the coffin for CFC-12 is its atmospheric lifetime of 80-100 years. CFC 11/12/113 worldwide production maximized in 1985 at 2.1 billion pounds. Knowing CFC-12 was stable enough to last at least 80 years, 2060 is the year when maximum CFCs (2.1 billion lbs) will have reached the stratosphere.

If UVb radiation had been increased since the 1960 initial CFC production, we would have all experienced increased rates of cancer by now. The worst would come in 2060. The Montreal Protocol’s claim to fame was no increased cancers. Acquisition of malignant melanomas leveled off during the ozone crisis. In the meantime, millions of quiet deaths spelled out by International Refrigeration, $32 trillion wastefully spent, and an intensely political issue was put to rest.

It seems difficult to prove a negative.

But an Unprecedented Arctic ozone loss last winter raised scientists’ concerns again in 2010. According to these scientists, unusually low temperatures in Arctic ozone have recently initiated major ozone depletion. It was deduced by the authors who used a combination of measurements and computer simulations. No additional ozone depletion. No additional cancers. No known environmental mutations. Who would have guessed unusually cold temperatures might affect ozone production?

It sounds like there was not enough UVb radiation to spur any additional ozone elimination, that the maximum worldwide production of CFCs in 1985 (2.1 billion pounds) with its atmospheric lifetime of 80-100 years will not reach the upper atmosphere until 2060, and no other viable destroyer of ozone (i.e., cosmic rays) has even been considered for ozone variances.

Why is it that respected scientists won’t believe an Intelligent Designer knew ozone depletion could be the cause of additional human cancers, but had built in a compensating step to eliminate that hazard? Can man feel omnipotent enough where he believes he completely controls his own destiny? Evidently some do.

Kevin Roeten
A former Chemical Engineer, Kevin Roeten enjoys riding the third rail of journalism: politics and religion. He is a Guest Columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and the Independent (Ohio), writes for numerous blogs, is an amateur astronomer, and delves into scientific topics.