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Question: What is the deal with the ozone layer?

Ozone is a word we see and hear a lot in the news. And the news can scare us. But You Can turn fear into something else. What you change fear into is up to you. But before You Can change fear, you first have to understand what's going on. It's how you begin.

What Is Ozone?
The drawing is roughly the shape of an ozone molecule. Ozone is made up of oxygen atoms. The oxygen we breathe is made from 2 atoms. It's called O2.

Ozone is made from 3 atoms and is called O3. Ozone isn't very stable. It can break apart and turn into O2 easily. There is lots of it high above the Earth near the edge of outer space.

Ozone is just the right size and shape to absorb energy from the sun that can be dangerous. The ozone forms a layer that absorbs some of the sun's energy. That layer protects us.

What Is The Problem?
Freon and other related chemicals drift up miles above the Earth to the part of our air called the stratosphere (STRAT-us-fear). That's where ozone is.

When high energy sunlight (1) hits a freon molecule, it breaks up and releases a chlorine atom (2). The chlorine atom then bangs into an ozone molecule (3). That turns the ozone into regular oxygen. Regular oxygen (O2) isn't the right size and shape to absorb a kind of sunlight that can be dangerous.

The dangerous sunlight is called UV, which is short for ultraviolet. Some of this light shines on us every day. The big fear is that more of it might hurt us.

UV light can change a part of our skin cells. It can make them duplicate themselves like crazy, like a copying machine gone nuts. That's all skin cancer is - uncontrolled copying of skin cells.

How Did All This Start?
A long time ago, refrigerators used a poisonous gas to move heat. Moving heat is how all refrigerators still work. The gas was ammonia gas, and it made refrigeration dangerous.

Chemists worked very hard to invent a new gas that behaved like ammonia but wasn't poison. They invented freon (FREE-on), which is inert. Inert means it won't mix with anything else at all. It seemed perfect. People got to have refrigerators, and that was very good.

But in the 1970s, scientists found out that if you add solar energy to a freon molecule it will split up. By then the gas was used in spray cans and to puff up plastic foam. People cut down on the use of freon. But they didn't stop using it. That's a problem.

The fear of more sickness is what we have to change into something else.That's a big job, and we all need help with it. Big jobs are a lot easier when we work together. This problem is something You Can bring to your class at school and to your friends and family. If you are concerned about the ozone layer, talk about it. Keep talking till someone listens. Someone will.

P.S. from Jax: One of the things You Can change fear into is action. Use less plastic foam. Maybe get your class to write letters to our political leaders. Tell them how you feel. Or come up with something else on your own. You decide.

Copyright © 1999 - 2004 Jok R. Church - All Rights Reserved.

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