SPECIAL REPORT

SUMMER COVERUP

FEAR OF SKIN CANCER DRIVES PEOPLE OFF THE BEACH AND OUT OF THE SUN

D’ARCY JENISH May 25 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

SUMMER COVERUP

FEAR OF SKIN CANCER DRIVES PEOPLE OFF THE BEACH AND OUT OF THE SUN

D’ARCY JENISH May 25 1992

SUMMER COVERUP

FEAR OF SKIN CANCER DRIVES PEOPLE OFF THE BEACH AND OUT OF THE SUN

SPECIAL REPORT

For Canadians in many parts of the country, the first sunny days of spring mean that it is time to begin wearing lighter, more comfortable clothing, play baseball, plant a garden or lie in the sun. This year, just as many Canadians are beginning to spend time outdoors, governments and medical professionals are issuing stark new warnings about the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun. Many dermatologists are advising people of all ages, but particularly children, to avoid being outdoors between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Some organizations have visited ski resorts, schools and beaches to deliver similar messages. Said Vancouver dermatologist Dr. Jason Rivers: “People should be wearing more clothing and

using sunscreens when they go outside. They should not fie on the beach at noon.”

The urgent new warnings are needed, doctors and scientists say, because more ultraviolet radiation—which can cause cancer and genetic changes in living cells—are reaching the Earth’s surface as the result of damage to the protective ozone shield in the upper atmosphere. Rivers, who is co-ordinator of sunawareness programs for the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA), said that skin cancer among adults occurs most commonly as a result of long-term or childhood exposure to the sun, or sunburns. Because the disease develops slowly, said Rivers, anyone who received dangerous doses of ultraviolet fight during the past decade as a result of ozone

depletion would probably not develop skin cancer for several years.

Doctors who treat skin cancer say that some patients develop the disease because they have worked outdoors most of their lives. “I see a lot of farmers who have prematurely aged skin, plus skin cancer,” said Dr. Roberta McKay, a dermatologist in Regina, the country’s sunniest capital city. “It’s very common to see farmers with cancer on the ears and the nose.”

Tanning: Many dermatologists contend that outdoor leisure activities can also lead to skin cancer. They say that such pastimes as tanning, skiing and southern winter vacations are high-risk activities. In fact, many adult skin cancer patients can trace the cause of the disease to childhood activities.

Werner Puttkammer, a 68-year-old Regina resident, said that four years ago he discovered a small bump on 3 his face. A doctor later diag2 nosed it as a benign form of i skin cancer. Puttkammer I said that he probably devel^ oped the disease because he grew up in a German city on the Baltic Sea and devoted most of his annual summer vacation to lying on the beach. “I had great summers there as a kid,” recalled Puttkammer, who has had several cancerous growths successfully removed from his skin. “I could be exposed to the sun all day and I never burned.”

Like Puttkammer, Susan Cameron spent many hours as a teenager and a young adult getting a suntan on summer days at her family’s cottage on Lake Huron in Ontario. Now, the 39year-old Vancouverite, who is the mother of two teenage boys, says that she avoids overexposure. Cameron said that during the past couple of summers, she and her husband, Donald, a neurosurgeon, and their sons spent less time at beaches. And they now wear protective sunscreen lotion when they are outside on sunny days. Cameron regrets that such changes in lifestyle are necessary. Said Cameron: “I’ve been a sun worshipper all my life.”

While many Canadians still regard a deep tan as healthy, attractive and desirable, the CDA, Health and Welfare Canada and local branches of the Canadian Cancer Society are all trying to discourage leisure activities such as sunbathing. The organizations publish brochures and pamphlets carrying the same basic message: during the summer months, people of all ages should spend as little time as possible outdoors between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when sunlight is the most intense. People who are outside during those hours should protect their skin,

either by wearing a hat and long-sleeved clothing or by applying a sunscreen lotion.

Most lotions now are sold with a sun protection factor (SPF) ranging from four to 45. Manufacturers claim that higher ratings indicate greater strength and effectiveness. A lotion with a protection factor of 15 is supposed to block out 93 per cent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, while lotions rated at SPF 45 are said to eliminate 98 per cent of the harmful radiation. According to Dr. Neil Shear, a professor of dermatology at the University of Toronto, Canadians should use lotions with ratings of 29 or above to ensure adequate protection and should avoid lotions with a sun protection factor of less than 15 because they offer inadequate protection.

In some parts of the country, the CDA and Canadian Cancer Society volunteers have launched highly visible campaigns to deliver sun safety messages. In Vancouver, the two organizations plan to repeat a successful program in which volunteers spent a day at six city beaches last summer handing out brochures about the dangers of excessive sun exposure to swimmers, cyclists and pedestrians. Deborah Matheson, a program co-ordinator with the

cancer society, said that an estimated 1,500 people visited the tents that the volunteers had set up. Two dermatologists were available to conduct skin examinations and diagnosed 14 cases of skin cancer.

On Easter weekend in mid-April, the same branch of the Canadian Cancer Society ran a one-day sun-awareness program at Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, two major ski resorts about 125 km north of Vancouver. Program co-ordinator Frances McLafferty said that volunteers handed out brochures and free samples of sunscreen lotion to skiers as they

came off the slopes. McLafferty added that young men who appeared to be between the ages of 16 and 25 were the most difficult to reach. “They are the high-risk population,” she said. “They are the ones who go out in the sun unprotected. It was like we were their mothers approaching.”

Indeed, some teenagers acknowledge that they do not heed warnings about the dangers of too much sun. Tamara Matvenko, a 19-yearold English major at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said that she worked as a lifeguard at an outdoor pool in Estevan, Sask., for the past three summers. Environment Canada ranks that city, in the southeast comer of the province, as the sunniest community in the country. But Matvenko said that she rarely wore sunscreen or a hat to shield her skin. “I tan very well, so I don’t use protection,” she said.

With such attitudes in mind, officials of the CDA and the Canadian Cancer Society in Alberta say that they hope to encourage teachers across the country to educate children about sun safety at an early age. Catherine Leinweber, a full-time cancer researcher in Calgary, headed a committee of volunteers that designed a three-lesson kit last fall for students in grades 1 to 3. It contains a health lesson about human skin, a science lesson about sun and practical advice on how children can protect themselves from the sun.

Leinweber said that the kit was distributed to about 500 teachers in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland in April. Said Toronto public-school teacher Georgina Kazianis, who presented the material to her grades 1 and 2 students last week: “I think it’s an excellent idea. This is the right time of the year to teach it.”

Melanoma: Medical experts say that the number of skin cancer cases diagnosed in Canada is increasing each year. Officials of the CDA predict that this year, 47,000 Canadians will develop skin cancer, up two per cent from 46,000 cases last year. In 1992, an additional 3,100 people will develop melanoma, the most serious of the three forms of skin cancer and the one that is most often fatal. Indeed, the association estimates that melanoma will kill 540 Canadians this year. According to the University of Toronto’s Shear, it frequently develops around naturally occurring moles or freckles and can be removed surgically if detected early. Left untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain and internal organs such as the kidney, at which point it is usually fatal.

During the past 30 years, scientists in several countries, including Canada, have been monitoring stratospheric ozone levels on a daily basis and have observed a slow but steady erosion. Scientists for Environment Canada say that, since 1980, about five per cent of the ozone layer over Canada has been destroyed by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a group of manmade chemicals that are widely used in industrial cleaners, as well as in air conditioners and refrigerators.

Earlier this year, officials of the U.S. Nation-

al Aeronautics and Space Administration made an announcement that raised new concerns about the sun’s rays. In February, NASA researchers said that they had found alarmingly high levels of ozone-destroying chemicals over Greenland, Northern Europe and Russia. Researchers said that the chemical concentrations were high enough to create a temporary hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic. Late last month, the agency announced that favorable weather conditions had prevented the formation of an Arctic ozone hole this year— but warned that severe ozone depletion still could occur in the future.

Meanwhile, Environment Canada officials responded to the findings in mid-March by issuing weekly reports on

ozone levels across the coun-

try. They are sent to The -

Canadian Press for distribution to newspapers across the country, and are also available through Environment Canada’s countrywide network of weather stations. David Wardle, chief of Environment Canada’s experimental studies division, said that very few newspapers and only a few television stations have carried the reports. Last week, a report showed that ozone levels ranged from three per cent to eight per cent below long-term levels in most parts of the country, but were 11 per cent below long-term averages in Western Canada. Previous weekly reports have shown similar patterns.

Information: By early June, Environment Canada plans to begin issuing daily information about the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Wardle said that the department originally planned to have measurements of ultraviolet radiation available for the public by mid-1993.

He said that after the NASA findings were released, Environment Minister Jean Charest asked him to have ultraviolet measurements ready for this year if possible. But Wardle added that the department is having problems developing a useful description for public consumption. While Environment Canada has been collecting ultraviolet data in Toronto for the past three years, the collecting is just beginning in other parts of the country.

As a result, scientists have not yet established what should be considered normal levels of ultraviolet radiation at different times of the year.

Wardle said that Environment Canada scientists have developed the instruments needed to reliably measure

surface-level ultraviolet radiation. The machines are now being manufactured by a Saskatoon company and have been sold for $100,000 per unit to about 30 countries around the world. The instruments have shown that ultraviolet levels rise and fall as ozone concentrations fluctuate from day to day, or from one location to another. The data, in fact, have convinced scientists and environmentalists

that the loss of stratospheric ozone allows more ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth’s surface.

Source: Canadian political leaders have begun acting to attack the source of the problem, which is the use of CFCs. Federal and provincial environment ministers announced in March that after Dec. 31, 1995, Canadian companies will no longer be permitted to produce or import CFCs. The new deadline puts Canada four years ahead of the current phase-out date set by the Montreal Protocol, signed by 33 countries in September, 1987. The agreement, which has now been signed by more than 70 countries, stipulates that CFC production must end by the turn of the century. Government ministers from signatory nations are expected to ratify an even earlier CFC phase-out date at a planned meeting in Copenhagen from Nov. 24 to 26.

Since it was originally signed, the Montreal Protocol has come to be seen as a model for the type of international co-operation required to solve global environmental problems. When delegates from 175 nations meet in Rio de Janeiro next month for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, they will consider documents that could form the basis for future protocols on global warming and rain-forest destruction (page 38). “The protocol is a precedent-setting agreement,” said Robin Round, ozone campaigner for Friends £ of the Earth, an Ottawa-based enviI ronmental advocacy group. “It has ^ worked. It’s amazing how far the I world has come on solving the prob-

lem of ozone depletion.” Added John Reed, a federal environment official who is involved in long-term international negotiations to eliminate CFCs: “There are worlds of technological change going on. There are still some technical barriers we haven’t solved, but there is a feeling of optimism.”

For 60 years, CFCs were key components in a wide range of products, including aerosol sprays, foam plastic insulation and industrial cleaners, as well as air conditioners and refrigerators, said Ronald Zelonka, general manager of fluorochemicals for Mississauga, Ont.-based Du Pont Cana da Inc. CFCs begin to migrate into the upper atmosphere after leaking out of air conditioners or refrigerators, or after they have been drained from such equipment.

Zelonka said that CFCs now have been almost entirely eliminated from aerosol spray cans and insulation and are quickly being replaced in industry by other, less harmful industrial cleaners.

Spray cans now contain hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which, because of their composition, have only five per cent of the ozone-depleting potential of CFCs.

Challenge: The Big Three U.S. automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, have all redesigned the automobile air-conditioning units for their 1993-model vehicles so that they run on HCFCs, Zelonka said. But phasing out CFCs in air conditioners and refrigerators remains a major challenge, he added. Zelonka said that Du Pont and other chemical producers have been able to develop environmentally suitable alternatives to CFCs.

But because of their peculiar physical properties, most of the replacement chemicals would damage existing equipment or prevent it from operating properly. He said that there is an estimated $200 billion to $250 billion worth of air-conditioning and refrigerating equipment currently in use around the world, and it must be replaced or substantially overhauled before the new products can be used.

In Canada alone, there are believed to be 10 million refrigerators and air-conditioning units running on CFCs in such commercial establishments as restaurants,

GLORIOUS

ESTEVAN

ƒ On average, Estevan, Sask., with 2,537 hours of sunlight a year, is the sunniest place in Canada, while Prince Rupert, B.C. with only 985 hours, is the least sunny. Average number of hours of sunlight annually X in selected cities: ÿ\

supermarkets and convenience stores. Noting that the CFCs required to run those units will no longer be produced or brought into Canada after 1995, Warren Heeley, president of the 1,100-member Toronto-based Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, said: “Our greatest challenge is raising the awareness of equipment owners, because there won’t be substitutes that can be simply dropped into the cooler at the comer store.” He added that the institute, with the help of the federal environment department, is in the process of training service contractors in methods of recovering and I recycling CFCs.

S Solvents: One Canadian £ company, Mississauga-based £ Northern Telecom Ltd., has ^ won international recognition by successfully eliminating

CFCs as cleaning agents in its

operations. Arthur FitzGerald, assistant vicepresident of environmental affairs, said that up until 1988, Northern Telecom, a manufacturer of telephones and other telecommunications equipment, used over two million pounds of CFC-based solvents annually, mainly to clean circuit boards in telephones and switching equipment. The company was the largest user of CFC solvents in Canada and the eighth largest in the United States. FitzGerald said that Northern Telecom spent $1 million during a three-year period to develop new materials that do not require cleaning by CFC-based solvents. Since then, FitzGerald and other company executives have travelled the world providing advice to governments and _T^s private companies on ways to elimi— nate CFC-based solvents. He said that business leaders in such countries as Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and Malaysia are struggling to meet the deadlines set out in the Montreal Protocol. For some scientists and environmentalists, such efforts demonstrate that the first important steps have been taken to solve one major global environmental problem. “CFCs are still increasing in the atmosphere, but we are no longer putting them in as fast as we were,” said Wardle. “That’s the only good news. We wouldn’t expect to see the levels of CFCs in the stratosphere decline until about the year 2000.” But for sun-loving Canadians faced with the prospect of covering up during their few short months of summer, some signs of progress are probably better than none at all.

D’ARCY JENISH