Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)

Sweden became the first country to regulate the use of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) when it banned their use in aerosols on January 23, 1978.  Other countries followed, including the U.S., leading to the eventual worldwide ban known as the Montreal Protocol.

Aerosol spray cans used CFCs as propellants (photo by T3rminatr)

Like so many chemicals produced after World War II, , CFCs seemed like miracle compounds.  They were cheap and easy to make, and were inert, non-toxic and non-flammable.  They were widely used as propellants in aerosol spray cans, as plastic foams sprayed for insulation, as solvents for cleaning electrical components, and as refrigerants in air conditioning units for buildings and vehicles.  Their use grew rapidly throughout the post-war era of booming prosperity.

But another outcome of post-war technology proved their undoing.  By the 1970s, scientists developed remote sensing tools that could detect chemicals in the stratosphere. Scientists discovered that various forms of CFCs were present at high altitudes and that the compound’s presence reduced ozone concentrations.  Lower ozone concentrations increased UV radiation reaching the earth, resulting in increased incidence of skin cancer and cataracts in humans.  Even more important, CFCs remained in the atmosphere for up to a century before degrading.

The ozone hole in 2013; it is now shrinking (illustration by NASA Goddard Space Center)

These worrying findings began a series of decisions by nations around the world, starting with Sweden in January, 1978.  Canada, Norway and Denmark quickly enacted their own bans. The U.S. acted to regulate “non-essential” uses of CFCs in March, 1978, to be implemented that December.  Other European nations followed suit, and in 1980, the European Economic Community (now the EU) placed limits of CFC production and use.

Ongoing studies showed that ozone losses in the stratosphere were worse than thought and that an “ozone hole” had developed over the Antarctic.  As worldwide concern over ozone depletion grew, the world agreed to a strategy for controlling what are now called ODS—ozone-depleting substances.  The Montreal Protocol, as it is known, came into force on January 1, 1989.

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, said, “Perhaps the single most successful international environmental agreement to date has been the Montreal Protocol.”  As evidence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited in 2017 that 45 million cases of cataracts and 280 million cases of skin cancer have been avoided—and that 1.6 million American lives have been saved because of the regulation of ODS.  In total, the regulation of these chemical compounds has produced $4.2 trillion in societal health benefits in the United States.  The ozone hole is declining regularly, and EPA estimates that ozone levels in the atmosphere will return to pre-1980 levels by 2050.

References:

Byrd, Deborah.  2015.  This date in science:  Sweden goes first to ban aerosol sprays.  EarthSky, January 23, 2015.  Available at:  http://earthsky.org/earth/this-date-in-science-sweden-goes-first-to-ban-aerosol-sprays.  Accessed January 23, 2018.

Morrisette, Peter M.  1989.  The Evolution of Policy Responses to Stratospheric Ozone Depletion.  Natural Resources Journal 29:793-820.  Available at: http://www.ciesin.org/docs/003-006/003-006.html.  Accessed January 23, 2018.

US Environmental Protection Agency.  2017.  Stratospheric Ozone Protection—30 Years of Progress and Achievements.  Available at:  https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-11/documents/mp30_report_final_12.pdf.  Accessed January 23, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

September 1
Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, Died (1914)
September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
January February March April May June July August September October November December