Utahns who think the thinning ozone layer is someone else's problems should don a sombrero and think again.
Utah's altitude, latitude, genetic makeup and lifestyle make the state a candidate for considerable health problems associated with ozone depletion, according to a recent report released by the state Department of Environmental Quality.Those risks include increased incidence of cataracts and melanoma, an often fatal skin cancer.
The report, simply called "Stratospheric Ozone Depletion," was presented at the state's first-ever Environmental Summit last month at Snowbird.
Wafting higher than the cruising altitude of modern jetliners, the ozone layer, made of ozone gas, blocks out large quantities of ultraviolet solar radiation, particularly UV-B, which causes cancer, cataracts and immune deficiencies.
Scientists know that the ozone layer, thanks largely to man-caused emissions of certain chemicals, has been depleted from 3 percent to 5 percent between 1969 and 1988.
More worrisome is the ozone "hole," a complete destruction of portions of the ozone layer over Antarctica. A hole could occur in the northern hemisphere, which is "chemically primed" for such a phenomenon, according to a 1992 report by NASA.
And according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "ozone depletion appears to be occurring faster than theoretical models predicted," the DEQ report stated.
Referring to numerous studies on the health effects of radiation, the report said Utahns face a greater danger of ultraviolet radiation because the state "is located at a higher-than-average latitude, its residents participate in many outdoor winter sports and 6 percent of its labor force works out-of-doors." Utahns are also predominantly fair-skinned and active in outdoor sports.
It estimated that in Utah, between now and 2075, a 50 percent further decrease in the ozone layer would cause 1.2 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer, resulting in 24,400 deaths; 6,200 new cases of melanoma, resulting in 1,500 deaths; and 138,300 new cases of cataracts.
A 3.9 percent further decrease in ozone, during the same time period, would cause 66,300 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in Utah, resulting in 1,000 deaths; 600 new cases of melanoma, resulting in more than 100 deaths; and 12,300 new cases of cataracts.
The estimates were based on a health-risk study conducted by the EPA in Vermont.
International efforts have already been launched to reduce the manufacture and use of ozone-depleting chemicals, such as chloroflourocarbons (CFCs), which are scheduled to be phased out by 1996.
Utah businesses appear to be doing their part in this campaign, having already reduced CFC emissions from 757,000 pounds in 1990 to 456,000 pounds in 1991, according to the DEQ report.