Health risks

J Photochem Photobiol B. 1998 Oct;46(1-3):20-39. doi: 10.1016/s1011-1344(98)00183-3.


The health risks associated with ozone depletion will principally be those due to increased ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation in the environment, i.e., increased damage to the eyes, the immune system, and the skin. Some new risks may also be introduced with the increased use of alternatives to the ozone-depleting substances (ODSs). Quantitative risk estimates are available for some of the UV-B-associated effects, e.g., cataract and skin cancer; however, the data are insufficient to develop similar estimates for effects such as immunosuppression and the toxicity of alternatives. Ocular damage from UV exposures includes effects on the cornea, lens, iris, and associated epithelial and conjunctival tissues. The most common acute ocular effect of environmental ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is photokeratitis. Also known as snowblindness in skiers, this condition also occurs in other outdoor recreationists. Chronic eye conditions likely to increase with ozone depletion include cataract, squamous cell carcinoma, ocular melanoma, and a variety of corneal/conjunctival effects, e.g., pterygium and pinguecula. Suppression of local (at the site of UV exposure) and systemic (at a distant, unexposed site) immune responses to a variety of antigens has been demonstrated in both humans and animals exposed to UV-B. In experiments with animals these effects have been shown to worsen the course/outcome of some infectious diseases and cancers. There is reasonably good evidence that such immunosuppression plays a role in human carcinogenesis; however, the implications of such immunosuppression for human infectious diseases are still unknown. In light-skinned populations, exposure to solar UVR appears to be the most important environmental risk factor for basal and squamous cell carcinomas and cutaneous melanoma. Originally it was believed that total accumulated exposure to UVR was the most important environmental factor in determining risk for these tumors. Recent information now suggests that only squamous cell carcinoma risk is related to total exposure. In the cases of both basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, new information suggests that increases in risk are tied to early exposures (before about age 15), particularly those leading to severe sunburns. Testing of a number of the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) alternatives indicates that most of these chemicals have low acute toxicity, and low to moderate chronic toxicity. Some chemicals that were originally proposed as alternatives have been dropped from consideration because these tests raised concerns about toxicity and/or manufacturing difficulties. In one instance, high accidental occupational exposure was associated with liver damage, underlining the need for care in the use of these substitutes. Recent quantitative risk estimates have been developed for cataract, melanoma, and all skin cancers combined. These estimates indicate that under the Montreal Adjustments, cataract and skin-cancer incidence will peak mid-century at additional incidences of just under 3 per 100,000 and about 7 per 100,000, respectively.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Ozone
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Ozone