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Earth Science

Laughing Gas Is Major Threat To Ozone Layer 306

Hugh Pickens writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that according to new research, nitrous oxide, the colorless, sweet-smelling gas with a long history as a medical and dental anesthetic is the next big threat to Earth's protective ozone layer. Its role in destroying ozone has long been recognized, as well as its role as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas but the new study puts nitrous oxide's ability to deplete ozone into numbers comparable to those used for other ozone-depleting gases covered by the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The researchers note that the health of the ozone layer has been improving since the adoption of the protocol and that nitrous oxide looms large today as an artificial destroyer of the ozone layer, in part because the emissions of other harmful chemicals have been so sharply reduced." (Continues.)
"Globally, Earth's ozone layer has thinned by 5 to 6 percent since 1980, before CFCs and their ilk came into wide use, according to Akkihebbal Ravishankara, who led the study. He and his colleagues note that 6 percent may appear to be a small number, but it still can lead to significant effects on organisms at Earth's surface. The researchers did not make any policy recommendations in light of their finding. 'It is not for us to gauge how much risk there is,' says Ravishankara. In any event, Ravishankara says, at the moment researchers could not say with confidence 'how much nitrous oxide comes from where.'"
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Laughing Gas Is Major Threat To Ozone Layer

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  • April Fools (Score:2, Funny)

    by BryanL ( 93656 )

    Did April 1st come early this year?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:09PM (#29253105)

    Turns out it *is* a laughing matter.

    • by TriZz ( 941893 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:44PM (#29253383)
      It's ok, it balances out since laughter is the best medicine!
    • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Sunday August 30, 2009 @03:05PM (#29253581)


    • Only Americans use it nowadays, it has not been used nowhere in Europe for ages to my knowledge.
      What about the rest of the planet?

      • by Bake ( 2609 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @04:08PM (#29254025) Homepage

        European here,

        I've had a couple of minor procedures requiring anaesthesia for the past 8 years, last one this spring.

        I have resistive trypanophobia, a fancy term for a fairly extreme phobia towards needles and restraint (if I know there's a needle heading my way to inject me with something my heart starts racing and my body goes into "fight or flight" mode), which happens to be rather inconvenient when you're about to get a needle stuck in your hand to administer anaesthesia.

        So in order to prevent me from entering this basic survival mode my anaesthesiologists have given me a nice and healthy dose of laughing gas which leaves me without a care in the world.

        The fact that it seemed fairly routine for the anaesthesiologist to give me laughing gas seemed to indicate that they do use it fairly often for situations like my own.

        • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @04:42PM (#29254265)

          I have never used nor been on any type of "mind altering" drug in my life (yes, that includes alcohol, recreational drugs, etc) with the exception of once when a dentist used N2O on me to extract four teeth in preparation for braces..

          What a *horrible* experience. I fell into a type of paranoid dilution and was absolutely sure they were trying to kill me. I remember it vividly, even though it was 25 years ago. It did do its main job, however... what little pain there was, was kind of "removed" and happening to someone else, in my mind.

          Anyway, based on that experience, I fail to understand why ANYONE would call it "laughing gas". To me, "hell gas" or "paranoid gas" would be a better likening. Seems that my experience, while not common, is not all that unusual, either. One thing is for sure, I will never let them use that stuff on me again. I would much rather have the risks carried with being knocked out completely (and that is what was later done when I had my wisdom teeth extracted).

          • by tirefire ( 724526 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:28PM (#29254583)

            No mind-altering drugs? Ever? Really?

            You've never drunk coffee? You've never taken a prescription or OTC sleep aid? Never taken an antihistamine allergy medication?

            What are you, amish?

            • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @07:42PM (#29255591)

              Actually no, I have never dunk coffee. Medications, yes. But those are hardly what most people would think of as "mind altering drugs".

              No, not Amish, I just have no interest in distorting reality.

              • I'm on the complete opposite end of the spectrum..I will NOT have a dental procedure without gas. If the Dentist doesn't give gas..I find a new dentist. Hell, I always used to argue they should give it during cleanings....and GOOD checkups!!

                I had my wisdom teeth out years back....was one of the best afternoons of my life, I got full blown gas going....he threw on the headphones and I jammed out to Dark Side Of the Moon, some Zeppelin and Klaatu....good 'spacey' music. It was least, until I got

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

                Many medications ARE mind altering, especially allergy drugs. Benadryl puts me out like a light, and leaves me groggy when I wake up. Beats the hell out of a bad sinus headache!

      • Maternity wards in the UK use it.

        Sorry for the short response.
      • Only Americans use it nowadays, it has not been used nowhere in Europe for ages to my knowledge. What about the rest of the planet?

        We do? I have been under a general anesthetic several times since the mid-sixties, and have never been given nitrous oxide. Not once, and I don't know anyone that has.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by demonlapin ( 527802 )
          You sure about that? I'm a practicing American anesthesiologist, and I routinely use small amounts of nitrous at the end of a case to speed the wakeup. Go back to older anesthetics, and nitrous use was very common - the older gases were more fat-soluble, so they tended to hang around longer, but you could use less of them if you used nitrous.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Nitrous in cars is used in Europe all over the place. Your ricer kids use it as much as our Ricer Wannabe kids use it. In fact it seems you guys are starting to pass up our Ricer posers in the use of it. Nitrous is a useful thing, but Honestly most use is some nimrod adding a 50 shot to his 86HP Hundai with stick on vents and hood scoops, then cranks it up to a 100 shot, then a 150 shot and then wonders why he blew his motor up. Real tuners use nitrous in addition to their mods like turbo or Superchargin

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by robbak ( 775424 )

        Next time you are at your supermarket, pick up an aerosol can of whipped cream. Check the label: the propellant is probably Nitrous Oxide.
        And the biggest source of Nox is automotive exhausts, or anywhere where oxygen-depleted air gets very hot.

    • by teh kurisu ( 701097 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:11PM (#29254439) Homepage

      So if I've read the summary correctly (RTFA? What?), laughing gas isn't becoming an increasing problem, it's just becoming an increasing proportion of the problem because we're reducing the use of other harmful gases. In fact, the situation is actually improving. We've drastically reduced our use of CFCs in recent years, so the 5-6% thinning of the ozone layer is actually being reversed.

      Therefore the suggestion that this is actually a problem is laughable.

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:13PM (#29253139)
    we must attach bottles of nitrous oxide to our automobiles and burn it up ASAP!
    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:16PM (#29253165)
      Are you sure you want your car to suddenly start laughing when driving on a highway at 100 mph in the rush hour?
  • Does this mean racing games will have to use some kind of different pickups for speed boosts?
  • Research dilemma (Score:3, Informative)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:21PM (#29253199) the moment researchers could not say with confidence 'how much nitrous oxide comes from where.'

    That would probably be because it isn't regulated. It's actually legal to own despite its recreational properties. As an oxidizer it has many industrial uses. And like all oxidizers, yes, when it gets into the upper atmosphere Bad Things Happen(tm). We may need better methods of containing it (it is a gas at room temperature, of course) when used in an industrial setting, but that's about the extent of what we can do to contain the problem -- it's a very basic chemical with a wide range of applications, many of which aren't amiable to being changed to using another agent.

  • After all, where else does a sudden uptick in nitrous oxide emissions come from?

    The ricers and rocketry enthusiasts burn it up in their engines. The hippies and dental patients metabolize it. So where else would more nitrous in the environment be coming from except from the relatively recent proliferation of gourmet coffee shops?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:33PM (#29253297)

    Even laughing gas is no fun.

  • Oh no (Score:2, Funny)

    by yttrstein ( 891553 )
    Dear Planet Earth:

    I'm really sorry for all those whip-its I did in college.
    • Re:Oh noes (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:59PM (#29253527)

      Dear Planet Earth:

      I'm really sorry for all those whippets [] I did in college.

      Fixed that for you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe ( 446288 )

      But, those were for scientific purposes. You were observing the expansion of gasses into a flexible container. You observed when a compressed gas is released rapidly, it causes dramatic cooling of the container. You observed the freezing effects will burn your skin. You also observed the anesthetic effects of inhalation of a readily available product when applied in off-label uses.

      If you should apologize for anything, it would be for using your parents money to pay for your

  • Mislead much? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Perp Atuitie ( 919967 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:56PM (#29253495)
    Hate to break into the hilarity fest, but the post makes a propaganda point and a lame joke by leaving out the core of the report:

    Nitrous oxide has a range of natural and human-made sources. The largest man-made source is agriculture, where the gas gets emitted after bacteria in soil break down the nitrogen in chemical fertilizers as well as in manure-based fertilizers. Nitrous oxide also comes from burning fossil fuels and from burning biomass.

    Nobody's talking about laughing gas, the anesthetic and geek enhancer. They're talking about artificial and natural shit -- let the new round of hilarity begin.

    • by Sique ( 173459 )

      So, tell me the difference between N2O, the Laughing Gas, and N2O, the nitrous oxide created for instance in internal combustion engines by while burning gas with air at high temperatures.

      They are actually exactly the same stuff.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Big Smirk ( 692056 )

        I'm not sure what Perp is refering to... but

        N2O, aka laughing gas, is used as an oxidizer on some racing engines (curiously, AFAIK, mostly allowed only by amateur level drag). When it enters a hot combustion chamber, the N separates from the O and the O is then available to support the burning of more fuel. N2O is typically injected as a high pressure liquid - almost immediately turning to gas when it his warm engine parts. This is Nitrous Oxide []

        NOx is a smog for

      • Nitrous Oxide is N2O
        Nitrogen Oxide is NOx

        Not the same thing.

      • They put enough sulfur-oxides in the racing stuff that people will not huff it, only difference.

  • Better stock up now!
  • by Morty ( 32057 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @04:18PM (#29254105) Journal

    TFA says that the ozone layer is improving anyway. So it appears that NO, while bad for the ozone layer, is not present in sufficient quantities to actually be causing a problem. No action should be required.

    Or in different terms, it may be the most significant cause of damage to the ozone layer, but it is not a cause of significant damage to the ozone layer.

    • by wigaloo ( 897600 )

      This page [] shows the Antarctic ozone history. You can see that there is only a hint of recovery in the past few years, so to say it has been improving since the 1987 Montreal Protocol [] isn't quite correct. Chemical depletion of the ozone layer is mostly a polar issue, and looking at global ozone trends can be misleading. For example, global ozone is also governed by mid-latitude dynamics. The dynamics of the tropopause (the boundary between the ozone-rich stratosphere and lower atmosphere) is important,

  • At this point, we need to start tagging stories with such doom and gloom scenarios as "ONOZWEREALLGONNADIE," (Ticker symbol: ONOZ) or perhaps in this case, "OZONEWEREALLGONNADIE."

    I'm beginning to wonder if armageddon science isn't becoming more appealing because it gets the big grants, and we are looking more frequently at doomsday scenarios as a function of marketing.

    This is not to belittle the work. This may well be the big one. CFCs were certainly a problem, but I'm just about worn out by all the dire wa

  • It's worse than I had ever thought possible!

    Time to call Batman AND Captain Planet!

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @07:39PM (#29255571) Journal

    Despite the Montreal Act, CFC114, which is also a greenhouse gas 20,000 times more potent than C02, is leaking from Paducah Uranium Enrichment facilities into the atmosphere through hundreds of kilometres of cooling pipes. The average is 1 million pounds (thats 453,592.27 kilograms) PER YEAR since the bans began. That is 8 618 255.03 kilograms (8 Megatons) of CFC114 *since* they were banned. That's the equivalent of 172,365,100,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the enrichment process alone and does not include the 1 Gigawatt of coal fired power used to run Paducah.

    One thing that is not immediately obvious from the destruction this compound causes to the ozone layer is the eventual effect on Phytoplankton [] which creates more breathable oxygen than the Amazon. The assertion is examined in these links production of oxygen in the oceans is at least equal to the production on land if not a bit more []

    and Field studies indicate a dramatic decrease in photosynthetic oxygen production can be measured after exposure to solar radiation []

    and Environmental effects of ozone depletion: 1998 Assessment []. Sure it's 10 years old, but that's an extra 10 million pounds of CFC114 resultant from enrichment operating, I don't imaging it's got any better.

    Going after nitrous oxide emissions is the proverbial trying to plug a hole in a dam with your fingers while it is bursting elsewhere. CFC 114 is still used for enrichment today, and the Nuclear industry is the number one industrial emitter of CFC's in the United States. We can expect up to 1 million pounds of CFC114 to leak into the atmosphere per year whilst enrichment continues.

    • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @09:56PM (#29256351)

      The average is 1 million pounds (thats 453,592.27 kilograms) PER YEAR since the bans began.

      You say that like it's somehow significant, yet give no indication whatsoever that it is in any way significant. Your entire post consists of "OMG LOOK REALLY BIG NUMBERS!!!!"

      Is there any reason to believe that a mere 0.5 Mg of this stuff is in any way bad for the atmosphere, which is after all 5e15 Mg?

      Big numbers aren't scary. Stupid people are. You kinda scare me.

      Please come back when you have an actual argument. In the meantime, please note the fact that the ozone layer is thickening just now, so the eventually damage this stuff might do is less than whatever damage was done by the original problem with CFC's, which is no surprise given North American emissions are down to a few percent of their peak values.

      Oh, and I'd also recommend putting things in grams rather than kg, as that will make the numbers BIGGER, and apparently you think that is important for some reason.

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