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Environment Matters Audio Podcast

Environment Matters
EPA Region 3
Topic: Don't Fry Day 2012
Size: : 6,144k
Time: 06:44

Date: May 30, 2012

[Opening music]

Lena Kim: Hello, I'm Lena Kim of EPA's Mid-Atlantic Region, and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of environmental podcasts.

Memorial Day is often thought of as the gateway to summer. The EPA SunWise program and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention want to remind you to be safe when you spend time outdoors.  On the Friday before Memorial Day, we celebrated “Don't Fry Day,” meaning don't fry your skin.  Our guest today is Drusilla Hufford, director of the Stratospheric Protection Division in EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

Hello, Drusilla, and welcome. So what is the harm in soaking up some sun?

Drusilla Hufford: Everyone knows the sun is vital to life on earth, but for humans too much sun can also be a problem. Sunlight is ultraviolet, or UV, radiation. It's a known human carcinogen and overexposure can lead to sunburn, premature aging, skin cancer, and eye damage, and it can also temporarily suppress the immune system. Skin cancers are increasing in incidence rate faster than any of the seven most common cancers. More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are expected to be diagnosed annually in the US this year, and that makes it the most common cancer. It's now more common than breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers combined. The good news in all this is that skin cancer is highly preventable with simple action steps.

Lena Kim: We heard a lot about Don't Fry Day recently. How does Don't Fry Day fit in with this?

Drusilla Hufford:  You've been hearing a lot about Don't Fry Day because it's actually just around the corner, and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention a number of years ago set the Friday before Memorial Day as Don't Fry Day because the Memorial Day weekend is the traditional gateway to summer for lots of American families. That's when all of us enjoy lots of time outdoors. So the purpose of having Don't Fry Day associated with Memorial Day is to remind people of some simple steps they need to take so they can enjoy time outdoors but still stay safe in the sun.

Lena Kim: What can we do to stay safe in the sun?

Drusilla Hufford: The steps to spend time in the sun are easy if you can remember this sequence: Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap, and Seek Shade.

Lena Kim: That's quite a tongue twister!  Can you elaborate on this message?

Drusilla Hufford: Sure.  It means slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, wrap on your sunglasses and seek shade when you can. If you're thinking about what kind of protective clothing to wear, it's best to opt for more coverage for your shoulders. Sometimes the temperature means you're really more comfortable in lighter clothing. Just remember if you do have to go outside thinly clad, you want to be sure to wear sunscreen and to apply it at least 20 minutes before going out. You need to reapply every two hours, especially if you get wet or if you're sweating. You slap on a wide-brimmed hat so you get good protection for the tips of your ears, the back of your neck and your face. And you want to wrap on your sunglasses because cataracts are actually a leading cause of blindness worldwide and they're also caused by too much sun exposure. And whenever you can it's a good idea to seek shade under an umbrella, a tree or even in the lee of a building. Remember that sun protection is important even when it's cloudy because a lot of UV radiation does actually get through the clouds to damage eyes and skin. And also remember that UV radiation from the sun reflects from a lot of surfaces, like water.

Lena Kim: Does this advice apply to children as well?

Drusilla Hufford: Most definitely!  Sun protection is especially important for kids because overexposure to UV radiation when young is very closely linked with a higher chance of developing skin cancer later on in life.  Unfortunately, the most serious and the most rare form of skin cancer—malignant melanoma--is now the most common cancer among 20-30 year olds. So helping our kids develop sun safety habits early can go a long way to protect them later on.

Lena Kim: Are there ever times when we don't have to be concerned about getting too much sun exposure?

Drusilla Hufford: The amount of UV radiation we're exposed to outdoors really depends on a number of different factors, including the season and the weather.  In general, sun protection is a good idea between 10am and 4pm.  The UV Index--which EPA now has available to pick up on your Blackberry, your smart phone or just to check on the web everyday—is a forecast of the sun's intensity and it's a good tool to use to plan your outdoor activities and gauge how much sun protection you might need based on where you are.   

Lena Kim: So basically leaving the house on a sunny day without sun protective gear is like forgetting your umbrella in a rain storm!

Drusilla Hufford:  Yes it is, since the UV index can help you be ready for that. EPA's website has a variety of UV index tools. I mentioned the free smartphone app that you can use. We have something new this year, too. We've got an hour-by-hour forecast. It turns out the sun's daily intensity really follows a bell curve on a clear day. So instead of cancelling a tennis match, you can organize it around when the sun will be less intense later in the day.

Lena Kim: Going back to the topic of sunscreen, with so many types of sunscreen out on the market, how do we choose a good one?

Drusilla Hufford: The best advice on that comes from our sister agency, the Food and Drug Administration. Those folks agree that you need to choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor, an SPF, of 15 or greater. The sunscreen should also be broad spectrum, meaning that it gives you good protection from all  types of UV rays, UVA and UVB.  It's also important to apply sunscreen of at least a palmful. Some people say a shot glass is how you should remember it, and to reapply at least every two hours.  Remember that SPF 30 is not twice as protective as SPF 15. It protects against 93 percent of UV rays, so proper application in some ways matters more than just the sheer numbers that you apply.

Lena Kim: It seems to me that message of Don't Fry Day is to have safe outdoor fun year round.

Drusilla Hufford: Absolutely!  We want people to be outdoors doing outdoor activities, but we also want to remind people to be SunWise so that they don't run the risk of skin cancer when they're doing it.

[Closing music]

Lena Kim: For more information, please visit the EPA SunWise program's website epa.gov/sunwise.  Ms. Hufford, thank you for being our guest today, and thank you to our listeners of Environment Matters.

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