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The environment has become such a huge point of contention in the scientific community, in the government, and in the media. But not everyone is up to speed on what they're talking about. If you're too embarrassed to admit you don't know what the ozone layer is or why greenhouse gases are harmful, you can't really participate in the discussion. This article will bring you up to speed on the ozone issue without you ever having to leave your home or admit your ignorance in front of another person.

Oxygen, when it is in the form we breathe - the form that is most commonly found in the atmosphere, is known as O2, since it consists of two bonded oxygen atoms. When you add a third oxygen atom into the mix, it becomes a less stable form known as O3 or ozone. Ozone is present in small amounts in the air around you, and when found in the lower atmosphere is considered a pollutant. But most of it - the part that environmentalists are concerned with - hangs high in the upper atmosphere and is known as the Ozone Layer.

The Ozone Layer, which is a wide band between about 10 and 50 kilometers above the earth, protects us as we go about outside everyday by blocking out harmful wavelengths of ultraviolet light known as UV rays that are invisible to the naked eye. Exposure to a small amount of UV rays allows our skin to make Vitamin D, but these UV rays, if they were allowed into the atmosphere in greater amounts than the ozone permits, would cause sun burns and skin cancer. This is why the ozone layer must be protected.

Ozone can be destroyed when free radicals, or molecules that are missing some of their parts, bond with the oxygen atoms and turn them into something else. Atmospheric pollutants that cause ozone depletion include Chlorofluorocarbons (also known as CFCs) and halogens, which were commonly used in aerosol cans, refrigerators, and air conditioners in homes and businesses before they were banned in 1987. The ban came about after the realization that a hole was developing in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

Ozone can be create in two ways - through combustion processes and naturally when UV rays interact with regular oxygen in the higher reaches of the atmosphere. We want to reduce the creation of combustion ozone, which causes smog, air pollution, and worsens the greenhouse effect, while promoting the natural process. You can help do this by increasing the efficiency of any engines you use and by refraining from using ozone depleting substances, which gives the ozone layer time to heal itself.

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