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Skiers Warned Of Solar Threat

Media release
October 5 2004

Skiers Warned Of Solar Threat

Breaking a leg is not the only danger skiers need to avoid on the ski slopes this spring.

With excellent falls of late snow, the Cancer Society of New Zealand is advising people on the slopes to take extra care to protect themselves from ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from the sun which can lead to deadly skin cancers.

“It might sound crazy to warn people against sunburn when they are off to enjoy snow sports, but in fact UV levels are not only higher when at high altitudes, clean snow actually reflects up to 80 percent of sunburning UV, compounding the risk of skin cancer,” says Cancer Society SunSmart spokesperson, Wendy Billingsley.

She also points out that the reflected UV is directed at skin which does not usually have sun shining on it – for example, the under side of the nose and chin – so the skin is even more vulnerable.

The reason UV levels are greater at higher altitudes is that a thinner atmosphere absorbs less UV radiation. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with every 100 metres increase in altitude, UV radiation levels increase by 10 percent to 12 percent.

The Cancer Society warning comes on the first anniversary of the introduction of the World Health Organization’s UV Index as a scientific way of measuring UV levels and warning Kiwis when they need to take action to protect themselves from the risk of skin cancer.

The New Zealand UV Index has been modified from the World Health Organization model on which it is based in recognition that this country’s UV levels are among the world’s highest.

The international index measure UV levels from 1 to 11+, because in most parts of the world, UV levels rarely rise above 11, says Cancer Society SunSmart spokesperson Wendy Billingsley.

“Here in New Zealand, summer UV levels regularly exceed 11, in fact they often reach as high as 15,” Ms Billingsley says. “So from now on, our scale will include numbers from 12 to 15 rather than just 11+ which doesn’t accurately alert people to how extreme the conditions are.”

The UVI replaced the formerly used “Burn Time”, and its introduction was supported by the Cancer Society, the Health Sponsorship Council’s SunSmart brand, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the MetService along with academic institutions.

Nearly 300 people die from skin cancer and more than 50,000 cases are diagnosed in New Zealand each year. The cost to the health system is believed to be more than $33 million annually.

“If people don’t know when they are at risk, they can’t protect themselves. The UVI is a scientific measure of radiation from the sun – that radiation causes skin cancer.”

In summer, New Zealand typically receives about 50 percent more UV than similar latitudes in Europe, Ms Billingsley says.


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