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October 4th, 2011:

Deep chill tore new hole in ozone shield

South China Morning Post – Oct. 4, 2011

Massive rift opened in protective atmospheric layer over the Arctic for first time last winter, exposing Europe and Asia to higher levels of ultraviolet light

An ozone hole five times the size of California opened over the Arctic this spring, matching ozone loss over Antarctica for the first time on record, scientists said.

Formed by a deep chill over the North Pole, the unprecedented hole at one point shifted over eastern Europe, Russia and Mongolia, exposing populations to higher, but unsustained, levels of ultraviolet light.

Ozone, a molecule of oxygen, forms in the stratosphere, filtering out ultraviolet rays that damage vegetation and can cause skin cancer and cataracts. The shield comes under seasonal attack in both polar regions in the local winter-spring.

Part of the source comes from man-made chlorine-based compounds, once widely used in refrigerants and consumer aerosols, that are being phased out under the UN’s Montreal Protocol.

But the loss itself is driven by deep cold, which causes water vapour and molecules of nitric acid to condense into clouds in the lower stratosphere. These clouds in turn become a “bed” where atmospheric chlorine molecules convert into reactive compounds that gobble up ozone.

Ozone loss over the Antarctic is traditionally much bigger than over the Arctic because of the far colder temperatures there. In the Arctic, records have – until now – suggested that the loss, while variable, is far more limited.

Satellite measurements conducted in the Arcitic last winter and spring found ozone badly depleted at a height of between 15 kilometres and 23 kilometres. The biggest loss – of more than 80 per cent – occurred at a height of between 18 kilometres and 20 kilometres.

“For the first time, sufficient loss occurred to be reasonably described as an Arctic ozone hole,” said the study, which appeared in the British science journal Nature.

The trigger was the polar vortex, a large-scale cyclone that forms every winter in the Arctic stratosphere but which last winter was born in extremely cold conditions, said Dr Gloria Manney, of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

“The ozone destruction began in January, then accelerated in late February and March, so that ozone values in the polar vortex region were much lower than usual from early March through late April, after which the polar vortex dissipated,” the study said.

“Especially low total column ozone values … were observed for about 27 days in March and early April,” The study said. “The maximum area with [such] values … was about two million square kilometres, roughly five times the area of Germany or California.”

This was similar in size to ozone loss in Antarctica in the mid-1980s.

In April, the vortex shifted over more densely populated parts of Russia, Mongolia and eastern Europe for about two weeks.

Measurements on the ground showed “unusually high values” of ultraviolet, although human exposure was not constant as the vortex shifted location daily before eventually fading, said Manney. The study challenges conventional thinking about the Arctic’s susceptibility to ozone holes.

This thinking is based on only a few decades of satellite observations.

Stratospheric temperatures in the Arctic have been extraordinarily varied in the past decade, the paper notes. Four out of the last 10 years have been amongst the warmest in the past 32 years, and two are the coldest.

Air-quality standards may be tightened

South China Morning Post – Oct. 4, 2011

Mainland authorities are mulling including fine particulate matter in the pollution index for the first time, under 12th five-year plan

Mainland authorities are considering tightening air-quality standards to include fine particulate matter in the pollution index for the first time, state media said.

The move – part of a review of guidelines on air, water, soil and noise pollution under the 12th five-year plan, for 2011-15 – would include particles smaller than 2.5 microns in standard reports on air quality, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Fine particulate, known as PM2.5, is one of the principal factors in visible smog and is known to cause lung damage. It may even enter the bloodstream and cause heart problems.

Chinese air pollution standards lag behind UN and World Health Organisation guidelines, but are stricter than those in parts of the United States. Fine particulate has been excluded from the pollution index – at times leaving city residents scratching their heads on smoggy days when the index records relatively “clean” air.

In its report, Xinhua quoted Zhou Jian , vice-minister of environmental protection, as saying at a recent conference that authorities had been conducting a review of pollution regulations over the past four years, and were preparing to “perfect” them and make guidelines more “scientifically rational”.

Zhao Hualin , head of the ministry’s pollution-control unit, said that the addition of PM2.5 measurements to the pollution index would be the first step, Xinhua reported.

The news was welcomed by one prominent campaigner as a move that would have a “major motivational impact” on environmental efforts on the mainland.

“I strongly support this proposal,” said Ma Jun , director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs. “This is a move that really should have been made a long time ago, as China is one of the worst-affected countries in the world for PM2.5 pollution.”

Ma said China was unusual in not producing official statistics on fine particulates, which he said was standard procedure even in many developing nations.

“In a comparative study on air pollution that we conducted last year between mainland cities and 10 international cities, China was the only place that did not record PM2.5 levels,” Ma said.

“We first need to recognise the extent of the problem and work out how serious it is. That refers not just to the government – academics and researchers need to pay more attention to the problem.”

Visibility had been deteriorating rapidly in most big cities over the past two decades, he said, but including particulate in air pollution measurements could mark a turning point.

“This will have a major motivational impact for environmentalism in China,” Ma said. “It will draw the public’s attention, and that can only bring more pressure for change.

“Ordinary people are increasingly recognising that they may have wealth or a job, but they don’t want to pay for that economic growth with their health or even their lives.”

Denmark imposes ‘fat tax’ on butter and oil in bid to end nation’s unhealthy eating habits

Oct. 4, 2011

Denmark has imposed a ‘fat tax’ on foods such as butter and oil in a bid to curb the nation’s unhealthy eating habits.

The Scandinavian country introduced the tax, of 16 kroner (£1.84) per kilogram (2.2lbs) of saturated fat in a product.

Ole Linnet Juul, food director at Denmark’s Confederation of Industries, said the tax will increase the price of a burger by around nine pence and raise the price of a small package of butter by around 25pence.

On the rise: The cost of burgers and hot dogs in Denmark will go up after the Government implemented a new 'fat tax' on some foods

On the rise: The cost of burgers and hot dogs in Denmark will go up after the Government implemented a new ‘fat tax’ on some foods

The tax was approved by large majority in a parliament in March as a move to help increase the average life expectancy of Danes.

Denmark, like some other European countries, already has higher fees on sugar, chocolates and soft drinks, but Linnet Juul said he believes the country is the first in the world to tax fatty foods.


In September, Hungary introduced a new tax popularly known as the ‘Hamburger Law’, but that only involves higher taxes on soft drinks, pastries, salty snacks and food flavourings.

Complex: Ole Linnet Juul said the new tax involves the percentage of fat used in making the product, rather than the amount in the end product

The outgoing conservative Danish government planned the fat tax as part of a goal to increase the average life expectancy of Danes, currently below the OECD average at 79 years, by three years over the next 10 years.

‘Higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark,’ health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen said when he introduced the idea in 2009, because ‘saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.’

Linnet Juul said the tax mechanism is very complex, involving tax rates on the percentage of fat used in making a product rather than the percentage that is in the end-product.

As such, only the arrangements of how companies should handle the tax payments could cost Danish businesses about £18 million in the first year, he said.

Linnet Juul’s organisation is pressuring politicians to simplify the tax, but said he is unsure what will happen when the new, centre-left government takes office.