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Ozone layer defences prevent millions of cataracts

Ozone layer defences prevent millions of cataracts

Tuesday 02 November 2021

A study published in August 2021 by the American Chemical Society has concluded that by addressing rampant ozone depletion, the Montreal Protocol (signed in 1987) will have prevented 63 million cases of cataracts and over 300 million cases of skin cancer in America over the next 100 years, due to a reduction in UV exposure.

The ozone layer is a very thin, but vitally important layer of our atmosphere, which protects organisms on Earth from highly penetrative and harmful UV rays. While it does not prevent all rays from reaching us, their danger to us is significantly affected, reducing cases of skin cancer and cataracts especially. Protecting the ozone layer is therefore essential to life on Earth, but this was threatened greatly by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) - chemicals which were damaging the ozone layer and creating holes within it.

These chemicals reached $1 billion sales in the 1970s, were hailed as a miracle coolant for industrial processes like air conditioning and refrigeration. However, they had a long lifespan in the upper stratosphere, and when they reached the ozone layer, would release chlorine and bromine molecules, which reacted with and depleted the protective ozone layer.

In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed, uniting multiple international communities in efforts to phase out CFCs, to protect us from the harmful effects of greater UV exposure. This has been an overwhelming success, as the ACS now states the ozone layer is beginning to recover, and within 30-50 years, we will have an ozone layer as reliable and dense as one before the damage which resulted from the use of CFCs.

One of the known causes of cataracts is overexposure to UV light. This occurs due to oxidation on the lens, which makes it cloudy and blurs our vision. The ACS has revealed that due to the positive actions of the Montreal Protocol, millions of us will have escaped the effects of cataracts, and the severity of cataracts will have been reduced as well.

As stated by UNEP, the Montreal Protocol is the only United Nations environmental agreement to be ratified by every country. This protocol, which has largely been forgotten about (perhaps due to its overwhelming success), is an example of a policy designed to protect the environment we share, which resulted in worldwide change. It is somewhat unclear why this policy had such an impact so soon, whereas other international protocols and summits regarding imminent changes to our environment have not had the same results.

The Montreal Protocol, and its resultant benefits to humans of all nationalities, is a testament to the fact that we are indeed capable of international change which can make a noticeable difference and protect the environment. This was despite huge financial pressures from businesses and lobbyists, such as those by Dupont.

The COP26 UN climate change conference is the next opportunity for international communities to address the environmental and ecological concerns of scientists, politicians, businesses, and the general public alike. This comes when discussions around climate change are more divisive than ever.

All we can hope for is that people remember that societal changes like those from the Montreal Protocol in 1987 are possible and regain trust in united efforts to affect positive change.


  1. PUBS ACS.
  2. News UCAR.
  3. Wikipedia.
  4. Britannica.
  5. UNEP.



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