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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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  • Re:Haha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:20PM (#29253191)

    I am quite sure that the use in the medical and racing field are of no threat to the ozone layer. Those are intentionally created sources. The major threat is from general pollution that creates N2O. It is interesting to note, also, that according to Wikipedia, 70% of N2O is created naturally in soil and in/from the ocean.

  • Re:Haha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:30PM (#29253279)
    propofol is already one of the most widely used anesthetics (if i remember correctly, its actually a hyponotic, but thats beside the point). Using a mixture of gases and injection reduces the dosage required for any individual drug drastically, meaning less of a reaction to any given drug. It spreads it around so to speak.

    I'm not sure how much medical usage really can effect the ozone layer, because it is contained by the anesthesia machine and metabolized by the body, meaning it isnt released into the atmosphere. I don't know a lot about its other uses though. I'm just familiar with it in the operating room.
  • Re:Haha (Score:3, Interesting)

    by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:54PM (#29253477)
    One of the things about nitrous oxide as a anesthetic is that it's barley metabolized by the body at all. So like 99% of the nitrous you breath in, you end up breathing back out (which is why you gotta use it in a well ventilated room... can't have your operating staff getting woosy can we?). On the other hand, nitrous is almost totally consumed when used in racing. But, it's also used as a propellant in aerosols, as well as an gas to displace oxygen/air in sealed food containers. Those will just let the gas go nillywilly when used.
  • Re:Haha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by treat ( 84622 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @03:02PM (#29253561)

    propofol is already one of the most widely used anesthetics (if i remember correctly, its actually a hyponotic, but thats beside the point). Using a mixture of gases and injection reduces the dosage required for any individual drug drastically, meaning less of a reaction to any given drug. It spreads it around so to speak.

    Not why. In surgery, some drugs are "background" drugs to keep you always anesthesized. Some are stronger and shorter-acting, and are meant to keep you actually half-dead, requiring closer monitoring. But the background drugs ensure that you're still on something when they back off of the serious ones.

    Nitrous and Propofol are in the 'background' drug category. Longer acting and less strong.

  • 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.

  • Re:Mislead much? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Big Smirk ( 692056 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:07PM (#29254411)

    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
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrous_oxide [wikipedia.org]

    NOx is a smog forming emission from internal combustion engines (among other sources). High heat, availability of oxygen - perhaps some pressure (from engine compression) cause it to form. NOx emissions were first controlled in the late 60s by managing ignition timing and adding exhaust gas recirculation and/or lowering compression ratio (efficiencies) of engines. This is Nitric Oxide
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitric_oxide [wikipedia.org]

    The EPA articles seem to use the terms interchangeably - moving back and forth. Not sure how much I can trust their analysis.

  • Re:Oh no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:10PM (#29254429) Homepage Journal

        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 tuition and living expenses; to the planet for the trees that were used in the production of your books; and the massive amounts of energy wasted in keeping the universities running. :) This NOS you released is trivial in comparison to the cars, buses, or whatever internal combustion vehicle you may have used to get to school and travel while you were there.

  • by khayman80 ( 824400 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:18PM (#29254495) Homepage Journal

    and natural CO2 production is 20x mans ... but it damn well won't stop the "consensus" train. The only good thing about N2O is that its not something you can tax the population over, at least directly. Can't wait to see who the N2O bogeymen are going to be.

    I got tired of repeating myself on Slashdot, so I wrote an article [dumbscientist.com] showing that abrupt climate change is a matter of serious concern. There seem to be an endless number of internet ninjas promoting claims like this, despite the fact that CO2 hasn't risen above 300ppm in the last 650,000 years. But then we come along and the concentration skyrockets [www.ipcc.ch] to 380ppm in a matter of decades, which is 35x faster [wordpress.com] than any increase in the last 650,000 years.

    As other posters have remarked, natural CO2 production and absorption aren't relevant to the current CO2 problem because they balance each other. Our emissions and volcanoes are the only sources of CO2 that aren't balanced, and humans emit 100x more CO2 [newscientist.com] than volcanoes.

  • 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 [wikipedia.org] 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 [ecology.com]

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

    and Environmental effects of ozone depletion: 1998 Assessment [columbia.edu]. 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 jmerlin ( 1010641 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @07:48PM (#29255627)
    It's quite simple. You argue "why is it that in OUR country, which is nothing like your country, doing this worked (well didn't impact our tax rates anyway!), but in yours, you think it wont?!"

    I don't know how uneducated you are but grab a map or a globe and check out relative sizes. Not good enough? Numbers: USA - 9,161,923 KM^2... Sweden - 449,964 KM^2. That's 20.4 : 1. Population? USA - ~307,269,000... Sweden - ~9,263,872... That's 33.2 : 1. And let's just completely for sake of simplicity IGNORE the climate differences because that has a huge factor.

    Now, actual energy consumption numbers? Let's see....

    USA [wri.org]
    Sweden [wri.org]

    Ok. Sweden's total energy consumption in 1999 was 51094 units. For reference, the USA consumed 2269985 units. 44.4 : 1. The USA produced enough renewable energy to completely power all of Sweden... boy.. a CO2 tax wouldn't be very expensive there now would it? But do you notice something about how much CO2 emitting fuels we use here in the USA because it is TOO FUCKING EXPENSIVE to power this entire country on anything else with the grid being powered primarily by private corporations. A CO2 tax here is imposed and is completely unfair because we're one of the highest renewable energy producing countries ON THE PLANET, yet we're still not completely green -- and the country is SO MUCH BIGGER than sweden that a much larger portion of the population must commute, and a huge percentage of those vehicles burn a petroleum product -- producing CO2.

    We'd have no problem with a CO2 tax... IF the government would spend equally in that sector and to make *SOME* effort to help the country move toward the government's goals. Cash for clunkers -- bad move, good for banks (the ones the gov. now owns).. and the motor companies (which it also now owns.. lol..). Hundreds of billions of $ in stimulus -- building roads, money disappearing in pork projects, most of it completely invisible to citizens -- bailing out insurance companies, banks, motor vehicle companies, etc etc etc. A TRILLION DOLLAR healthcare bill -- when the existing system would be *FINE* if everyone didn't have to pay so much for energy (taxing it won't help). Where's the "stimulus" towards renewable energies? Towards R&D in vehicle technology that will make very high mileage vehicles CHEAP? Nowhere... but a very willing government to make us pay for producing CO2 when it's our lifeline at this point in history.

    We all want to pursue fission, it's less waste producing that burning coal but you've got fanatic green fucktards who lobby against it... we want fusion (lol, that would power THE PLANET).. but no government investment there.. we'd like to all power our homes with solar panels and turbines.. stipends here and there but no real public push or incentive from the government. Nothing. NOTHING. But tax our consumption practices because "change" is desired.

    You see, liberals hit a brick wall here with this one. Complete hypocrisy. On the one hand, when the economy is failing, we're gonna pump money into banks and corporations who have shown an inability to run their company successfully (ie, why they're failing). That's FINE, encourage those bad practices which are economically DISASTROUS... but CO2 emissions? Oh, we need... TR.. TR.. TRUH.. TRILLIONS of dollars.. to implement a "green" energy grid -- which nobody has!!... well.. fuck you guys, we'll make you PAY MORE MONEY TO US, the FUCKING government of the USA, because we're the big daddys baby, we're YOUR FUCKING DADDY, give us your money.. because we'll re-invest it in helping you do what is good for this country!! (Lol). Taking money from companies that you want to turn around and invest money in renewable energy is completely counter-productive and counter-intuitive.

    Your argument is inherently flawed. L
  • by robbak ( 775424 ) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @11:51PM (#29256995) Homepage

    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 thisnamestoolong ( 1584383 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @09:04AM (#29259381)

    Sorry, but the scientists weren't making it up, and the fact that you are so filled with ass-hat ignorance as to be certain of some bullshit conspiracy among scientists should help to convince anyone on the fence about global warning that people like you are just idiots without a freaking clue.

    The case for global warming really is not open and shut the way you present it -- there are mountains of conflicting data that one could draw any number of conclusions from. Yes, the Earth is warming for the time being. Nobody really knows if humans are causing this change, or if the upward trend is going to continue. The Earth's climate is always in flux and is far too complex of a situation for us to accurately model.

    That being said, I think the probability that human carbon emissions are causing global warming is great enough that it would be prudent of us to curb our output where possible. What we shouldn't do is spout hypotheses and opinions as if they were fact, you will only turn people away.

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