The Chlorine Cover-up

The Chlorine Cover-up An interview with Adam Trombly


In 1985, Adam Trombly became the first US scientist to go public about the reality of global ozone depletion. In 1987 Trombly warned in TIME that ozone loss had become a global phenomenon. As one of six Friends of the Earth International scientists to visit the Persian Gulf after the war, Trombly revealed that the smoke from the burning oil fields was reaching the stratosphere--contradicting the US government's official reassurances. (Fall 1992-Earth Island Journal.) A Video Tape of this interview (1 hour) is available from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Aspen for $25.00 at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. The following material was drawn from a two-hour interview taped for the CNN documentary "A Hole In The Sky." On the slopes in Aspen, we have had severe sunburn cases with people who were wearing Sun Protection Factor 15 suntan lotion out skiing for only two hours. Out in the oceans, coral reefs are being killed by ultraviolet radiation. On CNN [Earth Summit Secretary General] Maurice Strong admitted that ultraviolet radiation (UV) in South Africa, Tasmania and Chile is now 28 times the normal background level.

The sky isn't falling, it's tearing. I'm afraid Mama Gaia's not gonna take care of her babies, anymore. She's gonna kick her babies in the rear!

We've known there was an ozone hole over Antarctica since 1977 when the British Antarctic Expeditionary Group actually discovered it.

The (reason the US couldn't see it) was because a few guys at NASA had written the program for interpreting the data from the Nimbus satellite in such a way that anything above a three percent depletion of ozone wound up being recorded as "noise." After this story finally broke in 1985, NASA re-evaluated its data and suddenly there was an ozone hole over Antarctica.

Since the Nimbus satellite makes 2-50,000 globe scanning measurements an hour, the question arose: "What about the rest of the planet?" Following NASA's adjustment of the interpretive programs in 1985, the NIMBUS also revealed a general, global ozone depletion. NASA officials still won't admit that they knew about this that far back. We've had global ozone depletion for years and it just kept getting worse. Now there have been warnings about 30-40 percent ozone loss over Helsinki, Toronto and Moscow.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientists were being told what to say and what not to say. I have friends that I can't even talk to anymore. They're afraid to tell me what they know because they're afraid I'll tell the world . They don't want to lose their jobs. (Editors note: This interview was conducted in 1992 during the Bush Administration.)

It's politically inconvenient to acknowledge what the military-industrial complex has done to the atmosphere. In whose best interest is it that we should destroy our own planet? We're exterminating ourselves and we're all participating in the process through our passivity.

The chain of command that George Bush set up made Dan Quayle the executive in charge of Science and Technology. How obscene!!! NASA's former head, Admiral Richard H. Truly was fired right after NASA scientists issued their February report about ozone loss over North America [Spring '92 EIJ]. He was fired because he did not go through 'proper channels.' You had Dan Quayle insisting that Admiral Truly and NASA had to go through him to get permission to print a report about something that threatens the life of every man, woman and child, parrot, dog and cat on this planet. But instead of calling an emergency international disaster alert and getting all the armies and people of the Earth working on this, he fired Truly.

Killer Chlorine

Chlorine is a chemical demon. One chlorine ion will interfere with the reactions that otherwise would produce 100,000 ozone molecules. When Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland predicted in 1974 that the ozone loss would reach 7-8 percent by the year 2050, it caused a panic. We reached that level in the 1980s. What accounts for the difference? Molina and Rowland were only figuring the chemical impacts for chlorine releases from CFCs. But this source only accounts for a small part of the destruction that has occurred to date. Where did the other chlorine come from?

The truth is that we have chlorine going up into the atmosphere from all kinds of sources. It's not just CFCs. It's chlorine from sewage treatment plants, water treatment plants, backyard swimming pools, even household chlorine bleach. We were told that these molecules were too heavy; that they couldn't get into the stratosphere, but it isn't true. Atmospheric scientists have known this for years--it's lunch table conversation.

Not all chlorine rises into the air (some compounds become entrained in the soil or precipitate into water) but massive amounts of chlorine have been getting into the stratosphere the whole time.

Once the parent molecule--whether its carbon--tetrachloride, polychlorinated hydrocarbon or CFC--gets into the stratosphere, it photo-reacts with the ultraviolet radiation and interferes with the production of ozone.

We've got to realize that as much chlorine production as possible must stop. This is the kind of talk that can get you killed. Chlorine is a huge industry. There is a tremendous amount of money involved. Do you realize the liability issue that is involved here? Remember asbestos? There was congressional testimony from the 1930s on the dangers of asbestos but nothing happened because the lobbies were too strong.

The first major extinctions in the world's oceans were caused by an abundance of oxygen. Anaerobic organisms were killed off by the "aerobic revolution." Then came the invertebrates and the fish. In the atmosphere, membranes of ozone slowly developed, allowing the emergence of land life. This evolution of a natural sunscreen for the whole planet was a living process that took millions and millions of years to occur. And we've totally screwed it up in a couple of centuries.

The Montreal Convention [to control chloroflorocarbon gases] is an obscene compromise. We've compromised not only our lives but the lives of all species . The trees are dying and many of them are not dying from acid rain. In Colorado, only 15-20 percent of the forests, soils were found to be acidic but 28 percent of the state's coniferous forests are now diseased or dead. They've been sunburned by ultraviolet radiation. We're being exterminated by congressional committees that turn their backs on the truth. When people figure out what's been going on, we're going to have War Crime Trials. Twenty to thirty million people died at the hands of the Nazis, but now we're talking about everybody dying.

Why aren,t more people talking? These scientists are not evil people. They're trying to pay their mortgages. The economy's in a recession. We are working twice as much on a per capita basis as we were three decades ago and we're making a third less money. Have you tried to get a job as a physicist lately? Or a job as a climatologist--after you've been fired by NASA? You'll wind up pumping gas; you'll wait on tables.

The Kuwait Connection

The highest chlorine content of any oil in the world is found in Kuwait. The oil contains a lot of polychlorinated hydrocarbons and, from what I was told by a scientist at the Petroleum Institute in Saudi Arabia, they have got quite a bit of free chlorine in those fields as well.

On June 8,1991, NOAA said the top of the plume from the burning oil wells set aflame during the Gulf War, was at 6,800 feet. Look at the time of day they flew. They took off in the early morning (before the sunlight warmed the air and convection lifted the smoke skyward). Our team flying at 1:23 PM in the afternoon, only 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of the source, found that the top of the plume was at 18,000 feet.

This pollution did get into the stratosphere In December 1991, at 56,000 feet, I saw all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, a brown layer of petroleum effluent. This also shows up in NASA STS 43 photographs. The smoke from the fires was lofting all the way to Katmandu. A centimeter of goop fell on the ski slopes in Kashmir, according to Australia Broadcasting and the Brookings Institute. The smoke plume undoubtedly exacerbated the nucleation of the particulates in the Bangladesh monsoon that killed 135,000 people. Chemical condensation with oil in the atmosphere is highly capacitive, which is why we have more lightening strikes. And yet then EPA Administrator William Reilly insisted that the fires were just "a regional problem."

Save Our Skins

We've got so much ultraviolet (UV) radiation coming into our atmosphere now, we've got secondary infrared heating from the reactions in the atmosphere. People need to get excited. We could have a second Jonestown worldwide. By our political indolence, we're committing suicide right now.

The '60s generation demanded and created the EPA. We got rid of Nixon. Now we've got to demand an immediate halt to the use of chlorine. Boycott chlorine bleach. Demand that municipal water treatment plants stop using chlorine. True, you need to purify water, but you don't need to use chlorine--you can use ultraviolet radiation, hydrogen peroxide or ozonation at the inlets.

We need to begin atmospheric remediation programs on Manhattan Project levels worldwide. We need to supplement the amount of oxygen in the stratosphere immediately. In laboratory studies some remediation strategies seem to work pretty well, but it's not going to be easy. It'll cost billions of dollars--but it's an emergency!

Don't disband the Army and add to the unemployment problem: we need an Environmental Defense Force. Use the military's bulldozers to reforest the deserts. Don't rely on these people who call themselves scientists: buy your own UV meter. The world environmental community has to try and set up a non-politicized research center--an independent International Center for Atmospheric and Forest Research. We need an International Environmental Constitution immediately--with big, big teeth--and we need people to be prosecuted.

Adam Trombly
Project Earth™

What On Earth Have We Done
Art by Pete Trayner