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Poisoning our world

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Poisoning our worldAs the human population has increased, so has its waste production. Human and other waste products pollute the seas near tourist beaches, disrupting the delicate balance of nature. At best this causes unsightly algal blooms; at worst it increases the risk of disease. Landfill sites crammed with household rubbish release methane into the atmosphere. Excess fertiliser, used by farmers to meet the increasing demand for food, leaches into rivers. Cars, trains and aircraft provide us with mobility, but produce harmful exhaust gases. Modern industry releases a huge range of effluents onto the land, into water supplies, and into the atmosphere. Some of these are harmless, but others have had unexpectedly dangerous global effects. For example, chlorine compounds such as CFCs have destroyed large parts of the ozone layer that protects life on earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

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Poisoning our worldEU research programmes are successfully tackling the problems of pollution, as they have done for the last 20 years. Some projects are developing new monitoring tools and methods to help researchers explore the complex effects of pollutants on natural living systems. Others are trying to find ways to repair the damage already done to delicate ecosystems. Yet more are developing new, alternative technologies to prevent further deterioration of our environment.
Europe is playing a pioneering role in understanding how pollutants can affect the global environment. Studying the chemistry of ozone destruction is a high priority. Despite the successful international effort to reduce the use of chlorine compounds like CFCs since the 1980s, on-going European studies of the atmosphere high above the poles show that ozone is still being destroyed. European teams are working together to explain this worrying trend and to find ways to stop it.

Understanding the ozone hole
Major European research projects into ozone destruction have called on a former high-altitude spy plane and meteorological balloons to study the effects of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances on the upper atmosphere. Early studies indicated losses of 40% to 50%. The latest THESEO measurement campaign shows that very low temperatures in polar regions lead to dramatic losses of ozone, explaining why the ozone hole gets bigger during cold winters.

Poisoning our world

Simulating the chemistry of the air we breathe
Conversely, in the lower atmosphere, the air that we breathe, emissions from ground vehicles and industry frequently create excess ozone, causing serious human health problems. The EUPHORE laboratory in Spain is a unique European facility where researchers can simulate the complexity of the chemical reactions occurring in the atmosphere.

The long recovery of an over-polluted sea
For decades, the north-western part of the Black Sea has been heavily contaminated by inflows from large rivers such as the Danube. Scientists on the EROS project are monitoring the recovery of natural marine ecosystems now that incoming pollution has been reduced.

Poisoning our world

High mountain lakes mirror global changes

Since high mountain lakes are relatively well protected against the direct effects of human activity, scientists use them to monitor the global environment. Changes in the biology and chemistry of their waters rapidly "mirror" traces of pollutants in the upper troposphere and climate changes.

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