Health Effects of Ozone Depletion
More than a decade ago, scientists concluded that major increases in skin cancer and cataracts would not have been avoided by the original restrictions of the Montreal Protocol.
But changes which have been made to the protocol since then to widen its scope are now thought to be sufficient to ensure that large increases do not occur.
However, this assumes that current ozone levels are either maintained or improved and that our lifestyles do not change dramatically, leading us to spend longer in the sun.
Skin AgeingOne of the least harmful effects of UV radiation is premature ageing of the skin. Many people spend large amounts of money on creams and treatments that promise an anti-ageing effect.
However, in general, the main ingredient of many anti-ageing creams is a sunscreen and it is this that allows manufacturers to use the term “anti-ageing” since UV radiation is now known to be one the major causes of skin ageing.
One of the major health dangers of ozone depletion is skin cancer since UV-B radiation is known to cause certain types of the disease and white-skinned people are at greatest risk.
Eye DamageEyes are also very susceptible to damage from solar radiation and the risk exists for people of all skin colours. Unless eyes are protected, exposure to UV radiation can lead to conditions such as snow-blindness or even cataracts.
In addition, research has now established that higher levels of UV radiation can have a damaging effect on your immune system.This means that ozone depletion could reduce our resistance to certain cancers and diseases and give us reduced protection from vaccinations. It could also create an increase in autoimmune problems and allergies.
Immune SystemOur body’s defence network against illness includes our cellular immune system. This attacks cancerous or parasitic cells and research has shown that an element of this protection is the T-lymphocyte, which can be affected by solar radiation.
Tests carried out on animals have shown that a tumour transplanted into a normal animal is rejected and does not grow. However, if the animal is first exposed to a much smaller dose of solar radiation than would be needed to cause a skin tumour, its body no longer rejects the transplanted tumour.
Scientists believe this is a clear indication that the exposure to ultraviolet radiation has depressed the immune system to the extent that it will allow the tumour to develop.
However, research into the sun’s effect on the body is still continuing since it is not yet known why UV radiation suppresses the cellular immune system.
Increase in DeathsThe World Health Organisation is concerned that if the body’s immune system is suppressed by solar radiation, it won’t be able to fight off common infections and diseases. This means that people could even die from illnesses that would not normally have proved fatal.
Of course, it’s vital to remember that some sunlight is beneficial to our health so it’s important to get the balance right. Avoiding the sun completely can lead to health problems caused by vitamin D deficiency.