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Posted Thu Aug 27 2009: from New Scientist:
Laughing gas is biggest threat to ozone layer
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is now the dominant ozone-depleting substance emitted by humans -- and is likely to remain so throughout the century, a new study suggests. Researchers suggest use of the compound -- which is produced by the breakdown of nitrogen in fertilisers and sewage treatment plants -- should be reduced to avoid thinning the protective ozone layer that blankets the Earth.... Scientists say humans' role in producing the harmful gas has largely been overlooked. Thanks to fossil fuel combustion, which produces the gas, as well as nitrogen-based fertilisers, sewage treatment plants and other industrial processes that involve nitrogen, about one-third of the nitrous oxide emitted per year is anthropogenic. Although supersonic transport never got off the ground, current emissions are equivalent to flying 500 such planes a day. Emission levels have increased by 0.25 per cent a year since pre-industrial times. "Nitrous oxide is kind of the forgotten gas," says Don Wuebbles of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who invented the method of quantifying a chemical's ozone-depletion potential but was not involved in this work. "It was always thought of as a natural thing. People have forgotten that it's been increasing."
[Read more stories about: airborne pollutants, anthropogenic change]

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