Cancer-fighting e-mails

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service have teamed up to offer a new, free service to fight the most preventable cause of skin cancer, overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The service will notify individuals, via e-mail, when the UV intensity in an area, and therefore the risk of overexposure, will be unusually high.

Every day, the federal government calculates this intensity, or UV index, for 58 U.S. cities. In these locations and surrounding regions, an alert will signal if the next day’s noontime UV environment—as ranked on a 1-to-11 point scale—is expected to reach 6 or higher, meaning that it “exceeds historical values” for the area.

Individuals can sign up for such automatic notifications at http://epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html, or they can plug in their zip codes at the site for the next day’s forecast. Such forecasts not only account for atmospheric ozone, which filters UV radiation, but also a region’s altitude and cloud cover. Although haze can diminish UV exposure at the ground, and reflective ground surfaces increase an individual’s exposure, EPA scientists say that the UV index doesn’t currently incorporate these factors.

An estimated one in five U.S. residents will eventually develop skin cancer (SN: 8/13/05, p. 99: Sun Struck: Data suggest skin cancer epidemic looms), according to the Schaumburg, Ill.–based American Academy of Dermatology. The most intractable form, melanoma, will claim nearly 8,000 U.S. lives this year alone.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the editor of Science News for Students, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer.

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