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Summer environmental protection: Enjoying the sun safely

Release Date: 5/28/2002
Contact Information:
202 564-6976

      Denver -- The onset of summer vacations means that millions of American families will be on the beaches, in the woods or at the parks. Environmental awareness tends to peak in the spring and summer months when people find themselves playing outdoor sports, cutting the lawn or simply enjoying the countryside.

Environmental protection is very much about balance and moderation. We use insecticides to keep away the mosquitoes, but we try to be careful to not over use them. We use fertilizers on our lawns and gardens, but try to moderate their use.

We need to use the same care when it comes to exposure to the sun. If exposure is kept in balance and moderation, there=s usually no problem. Overdo it, and you can be in for a lifetime of trouble.

This is particularly true for our children. Most of the average person=s lifetime of exposure to the sun occurs before the age of 18. According to EPA=s SunWise medical research partners, a handful of blistering sunburns as a child can more than double the risk of developing melanoma later in life. Overexposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation as a child or an adult can result in a whole host of other health problems including cataracts, premature aging of the skin and immune system problems.

The facts about skin cancer are striking. Skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer in our country, where one-in-five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. There are about 1.3 million cases of skin cancer reported each year. One person dies each hour from this disease.

Skin cancer is one of the fastest growing diseases in America, where the number of cases of melanoma has more than doubled in the last twenty years. Unfortunately, our scientists and medical experts believe that this number will continue to grow.

It=s sad to know that many of those of us who grew up in the baby-boom generation and worshiped the sun as teenagers are now finding out the extent of the damage we=ve done. On the other hand, it=s encouraging to know that skin cancer is almost entirely preventable.

It just takes a little balance and moderation.

As a nation, we have adopted policies to reduce ozone depletion and prevent further erosion of nature=s own atmospheric sunscreen. By eliminating the use of CFCs in air conditioners, insulating foams and solvents we will see our ozone layer rebuild itself. That will be a big help, but our scientists project that our ozone layer will not be fully repaired until the middle of this century.

The best and most important steps we can take are in our schools and at our homes.

The EPA has provided schools across the country with our ASunwise@ program. It=s an innovative and interactive teaching aid that helps to spread the word about how you can, and why you should, prevent overexposure to the sun=s harmful ultraviolet rays.

We want to teach these lessons to our children because we need to stop the escalation of skin cancers and other exposure-related illnesses and afflictions. As with so many other environmental behaviors, establishing good habits at an early age will result in decades and decades of improved health and a better quality of life.

Schoolteachers can never stand in the place of a parent. The most lasting lessons come from our parents who teach by example.

Here=s what parents can do:

$ Limit the time in the midday sun. Help your kids find another activity, indoors or in the shade, during the midday when the sun=s rays are the strongest.

$ Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15, or higher. Modern sunscreens aren=t greasy and stand up well to athletics. They should be reapplied every few hours to ensure their effectiveness.

$ Wear a hat and loose-fitting clothes. Covering up with loose-fitting clothes means that you can keep your skin out of the sun=s rays without keeping yourself out of the sun.

$ Wear sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses. Sunglasses that block UV rays will reduce tremendously the exposure that is related to cataracts and other eye problems.

Fundamental to the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to find the ways that we can live, work and raise our families in healthy ways in a healthy environment. One of the healthiest things parents can do in the summer environment is to follow these steps and teach them to our children.

Christie Whitman is a member of President Bush=s Cabinet and the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.