Protection of the air and the ozone layer

Healthy air to breathe, a pollution-free lower atmosphere and an ozone layer that shields us from UV radiation are among the key 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 branch.

YHA Kuvapankki
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 – 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 poses the most serious health hazard. 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 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 released to the air by human actions, in particular, CFC compounds, i.e. chlorofluorocarbons (freons), and methyl bromide. These substances have been used in foamed plastics and as propellant gases, refrigerants, extinguishing agents, solvents and pesticides.

In Finland the use, import and export of substances that deplete the ozone the layer is restricted under the EU law. Finland is also committed to international conventions that seek to decrease or prevent the harmful effects of these substances. Now the use of compounds that erode the ozone layer is prohibited in the EU, with a few limited exceptions.

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

Measures to protect the ozone layer have been successful, but further protection efforts are still needed. The challenges include the warming climate and the environmental effects of substances developed as substitutes for the ozone-depleting substances.

The most significant global risks to the ozone layer are:

  1. The strengthening of the greenhouse effect, which may cause the temperature of the upper atmosphere to drop, thus accelerating the breakdown of ozone.
  2. Increased use of the HFC compounds developed to replace freons and their emissions. HFC compounds are strong greenhouse gases that in the future should be completely replaced with environmentally friendly alternatives.
  3. Emissions of freons stored in devices and products.
  4. Increase of nitrous oxide emissions.
Published 2015-10-09 at 11:09, updated 2017-08-24 at 8:14