Friday, July 14, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES -- Who'll stop the sunshine?

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:42 PM |  

Given the forecast of sunshine and soaring temperatures for the coming weekend, it's a good time to remind readers that there is no safe level of exposure to sunlight. This column appeared in the Pioneer Press on June 21, 2004

Who'll stop the sunshine?

Attending the Taste of Minnesota over the Fourth of July weekend, I was horrified to find not a single designated "non-sunshine area" anywhere on Harriet Island. Promoters of the "Taste" callously ignored the conclusive scientific evidence of the health hazards of exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays — and the St. Paul City Council did nothing to stop them!

"Big Sunshine" promoters not only scheduled the Taste when the sun is firing its solar salvos directly at our northern state, they offered food, amusement rides and musical performances — marketed to impressionable children and young people — to keep them in the sun for prolonged periods.

And speaking of vulnerable children — beyond the harmful effects to preschoolers out in the white hot heat of the sun, how much harm was suffered by the wee ones watching adult role models carelessly enjoying themselves in the sunshine, oblivious to the dangers of solar saturation?

In order to purchase food at the Taste, I often had to stand in line, out in the open, unprotected from the sun. Tents and awnings sometimes provided a little cover from direct sunlight exposure, but offered no protection from the hazardous glare of "secondhand sunshine."

The only offering for non-sunshiners at the Taste was the potentially dangerous fireworks display held after dark, but even then, in order to find a good viewing spot, one had to stake a claim by early evening.

Didn't the Taste promoters realize that after a day of continuous exposure to sunlight even twilight enhances the cumulative effect of prolonged exposure to UV rays. Or didn't they care?

What do promoters of the Taste of Minnesota know about the addictive nature of summer in Minnesota, and when did they know it?

Why, in the face of this obvious conspiracy to provide Minnesotans with summer outdoor events has not the St. Paul City Council acted to protect employees and patrons from Big Sunshine?

At the very least, why hasn't the state stepped up to its responsibility to regulate the marketplace and ensure affordable paba-free protective sunscreen for the most vulnerable Minnesotans? How long must we wait for a single-source sunscreen provider?
Why hasn't some progressive city council member called for a citywide ban on outdoor summer events? Why hasn't Gov. Pawlenty stepped up and called for a statewide ban?

I realize narrow-minded civil libertarians might consider such a ban an excessive curtailment of individual rights. Some people, they say, might "choose" to go to outdoor events, and if the rest of us don't want to be exposed to sunshine, we can just stay home.

But what about the rights of the health conscious? Why in order to purchase deep-fried cheese curds at a "public event" must we run a gantlet of flagellating ultraviolet rays?

And what about employees at these events? Must they sacrifice their right to a healthy sunshine-free work environment in order to keep their jobs?

An immediate solution, a modest proposal if you will, is legislation that requires all "outdoor" festivals in Minnesota to be held indoors under non-toxic artificial light. State-subsidized domed stadiums for the Vikings, Twins and Gophers are a good start. But why not subsidize a dome over Harriet Island as well?

As a compromise, designated sun areas might be provided at outdoor events for those who don't care if they expose themselves to harmful sunlight. These areas, adjacent to the indoor venues, should be equipped with darkroom-type doors to prevent secondhand sunshine from seeping into the event when "sun worshipers" re-enter the building. It goes without saying that employees at these events should not be allowed to serve food where they might be exposed to sunshine.

It's time for St. Paul to take a leadership role in preserving Minnesota's tradition of pasty white complexions and protecting the health of its citizens.

Unless the council acts, I predict that next Fourth of July St. Paulites will flock to Minneapolis and the Metrodome. I can hear Twins public address announcer Bob Casey now — "There is nooooooo sunshine in the Metrodome."