An interesting (and disturbing) news item caught my eye recently - about the "hole" in the ozone layer. And after that, another news item caught my eye that could have an impact on the first one - the unreclaimed refrigerant from Katrina-damaged equipment.

A recent report released by the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted that the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica has grown to a near-record size this year. The WMO's top ozone expert, Geir Braathen, said in a news briefing that the hole "probably will not break any records, but it shows that ozone depletion is going on and that the so-called ozone recovery has yet to be confirmed."

The WMO said the hole, which actually is not a hole at all but a thinning of the ozone layer, spans about 27 million square kilometers and was expected to grow another 1 million square kilometers, approaching the record of 29 million square kilometers established in September 2003.

A thinning of the layer allows more of the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays through, which have been blamed for an increase in melanoma skin cancers, which kills an estimated 66,000 people each year.

While praising the international efforts to repair the ozone layer, even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that there is much more work that needs to be done. He noted that 189 parties to the 1987 Montreal Protocol have permanently eliminated more than 1.5 million tons of annual production of ozone-destroying chemicals. However, he added that developing countries are only at the halfway point in many of their obligations and developed countries still need to phase a number of chemicals out.

"Furthermore," Annan said, "because of the historic use of ozone-depleting compounds, the ozone layer has become thinner in most places in the world."

U.N. Environment Program executive director Kalus Toepfer was more direct in his assessment, "Until emissions of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances are reduced to zero, saving the ozone layer will remain an unfinished business."

Katrina Aftermath

The Army Corp of Engineers estimates that Hurricane Katrina left more than 2 billion cubic feet of debris from its destruction in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. That's like filling up 90,000 average-sized homes with sewage and trash.

Now imagine the number of household appliances, including refrigerators and outdoor condensing units, which will have to be recycled. Every refrigerator and condensing unit that sustained water damage will need to be replaced. I'm sure some people will try and clean up and restart damaged equipment - but they shouldn't. The ideal scenario is to let a qualified and certified technician reclaim the refrigerant in each system before red-tagging the equipment and replacing it.

But can you imagine the thousands of pieces of equipment that could possibly be destroyed or recycled without the benefit of refrigerant reclamation? Imagine the CFC emissions that will occur over the Gulf Coast regions. I look at that figure from Annan - 1.5 million tons of annual production of ozone-destroying chemicals - and I cringe a bit. I wonder how many ozone-destroying chemicals have been unleashed into our atmosphere after Katrina; and if that hole is going to get smaller anytime soon.

I spoke with a New Orleans contractor who said that although most of his business was spared, he lost his refrigerant reclamation equipment to flooding. If he has no way of removing refrigerant and his business was largely intact, imagine the other HVACR businesses in the region who have also lost their equipment. It can be a little scary.

And speaking of Katrina, if you want more information on how to help and who is helping, visit our blog at Maybe you can find out how to help with refrigerant recovery, too.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

Publication date: 10/03/2005