sun

Light Pollution and Amateur Astronomy

This picture of the Sun was taken on September 26, 2014 from the Edison Environmental Center.

This picture of the Sun was taken on September 26, 2014 from the Edison Environmental Center.

By Jim Haklar

One of my hobbies is astronomy, and for me there is nothing more relaxing than looking up at a sky full of stars. However, light pollution has made it increasingly difficult for people to enjoy the wonders of the night sky. Light pollution represents energy that’s being wasted. Think of an older style “bulb” type streetlamp (where the bulb hangs upside-down from a pole). A portion of the light coming from the bulb lights the street below, but some of the light travels upward and contributes to the nighttime glow. While there are communities that require the use of special “directed” lighting, we have a long way to go before we’ll be able to see the Milky Way from lower Manhattan.

Amateur astronomers have several options for dealing with light pollution. They can use special filters that block the wavelengths of light emitted by nighttime lighting. However, those filters also block some of the light emitted by stars or galaxies and that can be a problem when viewing or taking photos of these objects.

Another option is to drive to a location where the light pollution is minimal. For someone living in the New York City area, this may mean driving for several hours. You also have to consider whether the location you’re observing from is safe. There have been times when I’ve been startled by a nocturnal animal who wandered too close to my equipment. While I don’t mind a deer joining me for an evening of observing, I definitely would have problems spending my quality time with a skunk!

One other alternative is solar astronomy. By using a properly filtered telescope to look at the Sun during the day, light pollution is never an issue. And the Sun’s surface changes from day to day. I can also get to bed at a reasonable hour (and avoid my smelly nighttime companions).

In spite of the light pollution I still believe that astronomy is a worthwhile hobby. No matter where you live, be it the city, suburbs or a rural area, there will always be something to see in the sky. Just look up.

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his nearly 30 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Swimming Safely This Summer

Keep your simming pool clean, safe and healthy

Keep your swimming pool clean, safe and healthy

by Jennie Saxe

Like many of you, part of my holiday weekend plans will involve a trip to the local swimming pool to cool off and have fun. But safety is important, too. Everyone knows the standard pool policies: no running, no glassware near the pool, and no diving into shallow water. Your local pool also takes steps to keep you safe: lifeguards are trained, equipment is maintained, and the water is tested.

In addition to taking care of your skin while enjoying the sun, you and your family also have other important roles to play in making swimming safe for everyone. EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have some valuable resources for a safe and healthy summer at the pool.

One of the most important things to remember when swimming is: don’t swallow the water. Even though the water is chlorinated, some microorganisms are more resistant to chlorine than others, so there is still a chance that you could get sick by drinking the water, even if the chlorine levels are properly maintained. This is especially important for young children who are more likely to accidentally drink pool water while splashing around. To help minimize the risk of recreational water illnesses, never swim while you are sick, and make sure that the littlest swimmers wear appropriate swim diapers, as required by most pools, and check them frequently. CDC also has state-specific resources on recreational water illnesses and healthy swimming information.

If you have your own pool, be very careful adding treatment chemicals, like chlorine or algicides, to the pool water. These chemicals are very concentrated, and must be handled properly. Draining chlorinated water into a local waterbody can harm aquatic organisms, so when it’s time to empty your pool, the water should be drained responsibly, and in accordance with applicable local laws. Check with your state’s environmental agency if you have questions about requirements in your area.

Working together, we can all have a safe and fun summer at the pool.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys swimming and tending to a vegetable garden.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The ABCs and Your Skin

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By Lina Younes

As we get older, our skin changes.  As part of the natural aging process, it is not uncommon to develop age spots, also known as “liver spots”. Sometimes small growths of skin called skin tags raise to the surface as well. In general, these age tags and spots are harmless. However, some spots and growths might be signs of something much more worrisome than physical appearance alone. These changes may be due to the big “C:” skin cancer.

Studies show that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States largely due to overexposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. So how can you tell if that new growth or sore that doesn’t heal warrants a visit to the doctor?

Check the “ABCDE’s.  These letters stand for

A = Asymmetry (one part of the growth looks different than the other)

B = Borders that are irregular

C = Color changes or more than one color

D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser

E = Evolving. In other words the growth is changing in size, shape, symptoms, shades, or even bleeding.

In this case, you should see your doctor right away.

Last summer, my father who is in his 80’s noticed a skin spot that kept on evolving and sometimes bled. He showed it to my cousin, a dermatologist, who immediately ordered a biopsy. The test results showed that it was basal cell carcinoma (BCC). Luckily, it was in its early stages. During an out-patient procedure, the cancer was removed. My father quickly recovered and now monitors his skin regularly to see if there are any abnormal spots or growths.

What steps can be taken to prevent skin cancer?  Well, there are things you can do. What is Number one on the list? Take every day steps to sun safety.  You can enjoy the sun and outdoor activities with the right sunscreen protection and protective clothing. Seek the shade, especially during the times when the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM. Avoid tanning, whether under the sun or UV tanning booths.  Think of these tips during “Don’t Fry Day” and every day of the year!

Do you have any tips about sun safety that you would like to share with us? We will love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protect Your Skin, Rain Or Shine

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By Lina Younes

In the United States, Memorial Day weekend is considered the kickoff of the summer season when we relax, enjoy outdoor activities and have fun under the sun. Some people even go the extra mile “to get ready” by visiting tanning salons in advance so they won’t seem so pale when they don their bathing suit for the first time. However, did you know that by tanning your skin, whether under the midday sun or in a tanning bed, you are actually damaging your skin? That “frying process” can actually cause skin cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States?

That’s why EPA,  its federal partners, and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention have come together to educate people about what they can do to protect their health and prevent skin cancer. The Friday before Memorial Day has been designated as “Don’t Fry Day” to make sure that people in this country enjoy outdoor activities while protecting themselves from the harmful ultraviolet rays that shine through even on the cloudiest days.

I confess that my attitude towards the sun has changed over the years. I was one of those that in my teens started using those tanning oils that basically “fried” me. However, with time, and increased awareness I’ve realized the harm I was doing to myself and now I use sunscreen instead when I’m going to be active outdoors. I’ve tried to do my best with my children teaching them to where sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats when they were on the swimming team or playing outside. Luckily, my youngest still is following my advice and happens to love wearing hats and sunglasses. While she does it for fashion purposes, I’m happy for the sun safety benefits as well.

Furthermore, the elderly have to take “additional”  steps for protection – simply they need to take steps to protect themselves.  Repeated sunburns during their youth can come back to haunt them in their golden years. Powerful UV rays can also cause cataracts. My parents, both in their 80’s, have lived most of their life in Puerto Rico. While Mom always uses sunscreen and sunglasses, she has been suffering of cataracts and sun-related damage to her eyes.   Dad, on the other hand, rarely uses sunscreen and he just had a basal cell carcinoma removed last year! At least the cancer was detected early and he is fine now.

So, regardless of your natural skin tone or where you live, you should protect yourself from those harmful ultraviolet rays. EPA has developed a free mobile app you can download to your smartphone with your local UV Index forecast. Have fun under the sun safely! Do you have any sun safety tips you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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SunWise with SHADE Poster Contest

The U.S. EPA’s SunWise program teaches students and adults about how to practice safe sun.  Overexposure to harmful UV rays in sunlight can cause health effects such as skin cancer, cataracts and a weakened immune system.  I especially know to practice safe-sun because of my fair skin, light eyes and red hair which make me more vulnerable to sunburn and other harmful effects from the sun.  Days at the pool as a kid always involved lots of sun screen and wearing a t-shirt over my swimsuit into the water.  Even as an adult, I still make sure I practice safe sun by always wearing sunscreen and sunglasses when going outdoors.   You can help raise awareness about the importance of practicing safe sun by entering the 2013 SunWise with SHADE poster contest. Students in grades K-8 can visit http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/postercontest.html to see previous winners and apply by April 1, 2013.  Participating students are eligible for prizes, including a grand prize of a family trip to Disney World.  While you are practicing how to protect yourself from the sun, share your ideas with other students in a creative way!

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When Will I Learn?

By Jeanethe Falvey

Years ago, my best friend called me while leaving the movie theater specifically to say, “my mom says you’re exactly like Dory!”

I replied, “I really want to take that as a compliment, but I’m not so sure that I can.”

You see, I had already seen this movie. Images of the permanently optimistic, exuberantly playful, but ever-forgetful blue fish bouncing on the jellyfish in Finding Nemo came to mind and I was pondering at the time how to feel about this conclusion.

As if I had a choice.

Though I haven’t mastered my whale communication skills as much as I yearn to, I have long since accepted that it’s a fairly accurate representation. There are worse cartoon characters to resemble.

This past weekend is a prime example. For the 20-somethingth time (this seems to happen once a year ever since I’ve been in control of it) I managed to completely forget that I was in fact, soaking up rays of sunshine while out enjoying myself soaking up rays of sunshine. I roasted my exposed body parts in the process.

I EVEN went to the dermatologists for the first time in my adulthood to get a checkup two weeks prior. I EVEN remarked that fact to a friend I was sitting with at the time, and we began to compare sun spots.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. Both of us in this case.

So now, a few days later with shoulders that are STILL hot to the touch, I’ve applied my fill of pure, all natural aloe – none of that diluted fake stuff – and I’m once again vowing to never step out of doors without anything less than SPF 30 on. SPF 5,000 where I’m already fried.

As EPA spreads the word about safely enjoying the rays for Don’t Fry Day today (but really every day, HEY just like Earth Day!) I thought I might add my lack of cents to the mix. We all forget. Especially if you live somewhere that’s gray, rainy and you deal with snowfall (usually) at some point during the year. If you’re anything like me you migrate like a sunflower to the brightly lit side of the street and if you could physically hug the rays you would, just because you’re so grateful they exist.

Just do so safely. It’s not worth the burn (again).

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Melanoma is Most Common Cancer for Young Adults Ages 20-30

By Maribeth Bambino Chitkara, MD

It was almost a year after her initial diagnosis at the age of 26, just around Thanksgiving, when we found out that my younger sister Melissa’s melanoma had spread. From that point on, Melissa’s battle with melanoma was a blur of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. I came home to be with her as often as I could, and would stay with her in the hospital each time she was admitted. I’d try to sleep in the chair next to her bed, but would oftentimes push her over in the middle of the night and make her share the bed with me the way we did when we were kids. I was so amazed by her resilience. She’d go into the hospital for surgery, and be on the phone two days later talking to her clients from her hospital bed. I don’t think many of her friends and co-workers even knew how serious her condition was because she was so incredible at bouncing back.

Feeling so far away, my husband and I decided to move to New York to be closer to our families. I was pregnant with my son when we moved. Melissa embraced my pregnancy and could not wait until the baby was born. She stayed with me in the delivery room while I was in labor, wiping my forehead, cheering me on and encouraging me to be strong. Always the inspiration to me, we decided to ask her to be my son’s Godmother and of course, she accepted.

It was shortly after my son’s christening in the fall of 2003 that we learned that Melissa’s cancer had not only spread to her brain, but to more lymph nodes, her liver, and her spine. Her doctors started her on more chemotherapy, but we knew it was only a matter of time. Three days before Christmas, she was admitted to the hospital because she was very weak. On Christmas Eve, she slipped into a coma and died two days later. My family was with her when she passed, each holding her hands and hugging her. It was very peaceful and full of love. I feel blessed to have been with her.

I know now that as a pediatrician, I have to make a difference. I cannot let my sister’s death be in vain. Parents need to know how to protect their kids against the sun and its harms. Since Melissa has died, I’ve decided to change my career path to try to be a louder voice for melanoma. I figure that by telling people her story and making them understand how awful a disease melanoma is, maybe more deaths can be prevented. This is the best way I can think of to honor her memory. Please learn more about how to be SunWise this Don’t Fry Day.

About the author: Maribeth Bambino Chitkara, MD, lost her younger sister to melanoma at the tender age of 29, and wants to remind you to be SunWise on “Don’t Fry Day” and every day.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cool New EPA App…

uvbannerEPA has a cool new app for your smartphone…the UV forecast app.  The Ultraviolet (UV) Index provides a daily forecast of the UV radiation levels from the sun on a 1 – 11+ scale. Ozone layer depletion decreases our atmosphere’s natural protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.  Understanding these risks and taking a few sensible precautions will help you enjoy the sun while lowering your chances of sun-related health problems.

Find your UV forecast today!

http://www.epa.gov/enviro/mobile/

Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sunny Slopes – Ski Safely!

By Julie Kunrath

Pausing at the top of the ski slope, you look down to take in the magnificent view—a scattering of white-dusted trees, rocky peaks glowing on the horizon, powdery snow begging for fresh tracks…

…and high levels of ultraviolet radiation reflecting back at you.

Where’s your sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun isn’t just a summer concern. Sunburns happen year-round, and sun protection is especially important for winter sports, since UV radiation reflects off snow. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in the shade. In addition, UV radiation increases with altitude because there is less chance for the atmosphere to absorb the sun’s rays. Skiing at 8,000 feet certainly offers epic views, but it also exposes you to the invisible danger of UV radiation.

As an avid skier, my father put my siblings and me on skis at an early age. Following many of my childhood skiing adventures, I remember the infamous “goggle tan”—a distinct white mask surrounded by red skin. Back then, I was just embarrassed to have a “raccoon face.” Today I understand this was a sign of overexposure to UV radiation. This was a sunburn, an indication of damaged skin and a risk factor for future skin cancer.

As the most common cancer in the U.S., skin cancer is no light matter. Every hour, one American dies from skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable with simple sun safety strategies, like sunscreen. As a tough man of the mountains, my dad never wore sunscreen when he skied, so neither did I. I didn’t wise up until a few years ago when my older brother handed me a sunscreen bottle while gearing up for a ski day. Sometimes older brothers know best.

My advice for all snow worshippers: keep a small bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of your winter jacket. Make sure it’s broad spectrum with SPF 30 or higher. pic of UV Widget Slather it on your exposed skin before you hit the slopes and every two hours thereafter. Lift rides or hot chocolate breaks in the lodge are good times to reapply. Your eyes are just as sensitive to sun damage as your skin; protect them with sunglasses or ski goggles that have 99–100% UVA/UVB protection. You can also check the UV Index for a forecast of the day’s UV intensity. Who wants a raccoon face anyway?

About the author: Julie Kunrath is an ASPH Fellow hosted by the SunWise program in the Office of Air and Radiation in DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.