From New York Times, national edition, Friday Dec. 27, 2002. Article by Larry Rohter.
In Punta Arenas, the Ozone Hole Comes and Goes and the People Take Cover.
In Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of Chile, people pay attention warnings on the level of ultraviolet rays, which changes according to changes in the hole in the ozonelayer. The ozone layer is Oxygen gas in a triplet form, O3, which filters out ultraviolet light that othewise would kill life on earth. For the last decade the hole, centered over Antartica, had been forming earlier in the Southern Hemisphere spring and growing larger. Local health offficials announce warnings like the one shown below which recommends limiting sun exposure to 21 minutes between noon and 3PM. The "solar stoplight," with four readings, is on orange, the second highest of four levels. The warnings are on radio, T.V., and posted on street corners.
People wear long sleeves, sunglasses, and sunblock, and keep their children indoors when the warnings are high. "Life has changed a lot for us over the past few years, and I know that my sons are not going to be able to enjoy the same kind of childhood that I had growing up here," said Alejandra Mundaca, a schoolteacher. "We used to look forward to the spring as relief from the long harsh winter, but now it is a tiem of maximum peril for all of us who live here."
|Punta Arenas, Chile||A health department "solar stoplight" announces an orange alert.||A mother has her baby bundled against the sun.|
The loss of Ozone is attributed to chemicals called chloroflourocarbons, which were widely used in aerosol sprays and refrigerants until a 1987 agreement to phase them out. Other chemicals may be involved, including jet engine exhaust, and global warming may be a factor. Since scientists discovered the ozone hole in the mid-1980's, it has nearly doubled in size and covers an area the size of North America in the spring
. The loss of Ozone is attributed to chemicals called chloroflourocarbons, or CFC's, which were widely used in aerosol sprays and refrigerants until a 1987 agreement to phase them out. Other chemicals may be involved, including jet engine exhaust, and global warming may be a factor. Since scientists discovered the ozone hole in the mid-1980's, it has nearly doubled in size and covers an area the size of North America in the spring.
During much of the 1990's there was resistance here to warnings from scientists about risk to people, with fear of scaring off tourists a factor. But in September 2000 the ozone hole opened up directly over Punta Arenas, and the government responded with a prevention and education program that includes a giant penguin named Paul counseling smaller children, seminars, and postings of the "solar stoplight" hazard level in stores, offices, and schools. Its a new way of living," said the regional health director.
The appearance of smaller ozone holes ever central Chile has been reported, and health officials say the incidence of melanoma, the most common form of skin cancer, doubled between 1992 and 1998 in Chile's capital. The more acute angle of solar radiation in Punta Arenas may lessen the risk compared with places farther north.
But Punta Arena's remains the big draw for atmospheric scientists who come from around the world this time of year. "We feel like rabbits in a laboratory experiment," said Ivan Mansilla Vera, and engineer and father of two young children, "Nobody knows what is going to happen to us."