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The price of ozone erosion.

Thinning of the global ozone layer can harm millions of people as well as the world's ecosystems, according to a United Nations panel charged with assessing the environmental effects of ozone loss. When concentrations of this protective gas decrease by 10 percent -- as expected by the end of this century -- the "extra" ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth's surface will cause 300,000 additional cases of skin cancer and 1.6 million additional cases of cataracts each year worldwide, the panel concludes. Scientists recently announced that ozone has already thinned significantly over most of the globe.

The panel, which released its report last month, notes that land- and water-dwelling plants could suffer, but it emphasizes that scientists still know little about such effects.

At a Senate hearing last month, Susan Weiler, head of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography in Walla Walla, Wash., testified that new studies in Antarctica by other scientists show phytoplankton growth slowing by 6 to 12 percent when ozone levels dropped 40 percent. These tiny plants anchor the ocean food chain, so damage to them could spread throughout that chain, says Weiler. "We simply cannot predict at this time what the [ecological] changes are going to be," she warns.
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Title Annotation:Earth Science
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 7, 1991
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