Healthy breathing air, a pollution-free lower atmosphere and an ozone layer that shields us from UV radiation are essential elements of a healthy, comfortable and sustainable living environment. The task of the Ministry of the Environment is to protect the ozone layer and air quality in Finland through political decision-making and steering the administrative sector.
Image Bank of the Environmental Administration
Air pollution is harmful in many ways
Air pollution is a serious health hazard. Air protection policy aims to reduce harmful emissions and, through this, to minimise the levels of harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia in the lower atmosphere. According to the latest studies, however, fine particulate matter penetrating the respiratory system all the way to the pulmonary alveoli is the most hazardous. The sources of fine particulate matter emissions include transport, industrial plants, energy production, and small-scale burning of wood and other materials. Air pollution is also an environmental hazard as it may acidify the waters and soil, cause eutrophication in water bodies and generate harmful ozone in the lower atmosphere.
Air protection policy searches for measures to reduce impurities in the air. The main policy instrument in this work is the National Air Protection Programme.
A significant share of air pollution comes to Finland from abroad, which is why close international cooperation is needed to reach the air protection objectives.
The depletion of the ozone layer must be prevented
In terms of protecting the upper atmosphere, political decision-making is focused on the ozone layer, which is extremely important for life on our planet. The ozone layer is an efficient filter for the sun’s UV radiation, which causes skin cancer and eye diseases through excessive exposure, and harms the ecosystem.
This vital protective layer is thinned by compounds that are released to the air by our actions. A particularly severe hazard is posed by CFC compounds, i.e. chlorofluorocarbons (also known as freons), and methyl bromide. These substances have been used in foamed plastics and as propellant gases, refrigerants, extinguishing agents, solvents and pesticides.
Finland has utilised EU provisions and national regulations to place restrictions on the use, import and export of substances that deplete the ozone the layer. Finland has also committed to international conventions that seek to decrease or prevent the harmful effects of these substances. The swift measures have succeeded in either completely prohibiting the use of compounds that erode the ozone layer or limiting their use significantly.
As a result, the thinning of the ozone layer has been halted, but it will take decades for it to recover from prior damage.
Future challenges with regard to the ozone layer
Successful measures to protect the ozone layer have not rendered protection efforts unnecessary. Future challenges are related to the warming climate and the environmental effects of the substances developed to replace those that deplete the ozone layer.
The following are the most significant global risks to the ozone layer:
- The strengthening of the greenhouse effect, as a result of which the temperature of the upper atmosphere may drop, thus accelerating the breakdown of ozone
- The increase of the F gases that were developed to replace freons, and their emissions. F gases are strong greenhouse gases that should be replaced entirely with environmentally friendly alternatives in the future.
- Emissions of freons stored in devices and products
- Increase of nitrous oxide emissions