Super Shades Save The Day

While Earth’s yellow sun turned Kal-El into Superman, those same rays can sometimes have devastating effects on us regular human beings here on Earth, including heat stroke or exhaustion, sun damage and skin cancer. Nowhere is the power of the sun felt more keenly than in Laredo, Texas, where the intense heat prevents the city’s youth from enjoying the parks.

“For a child, there is nothing more delightful than the utter joy of being at play, whether that is whizzing happily down a slide, soaring higher on a swing or chasing friends around the jungle gym,” says Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas. “Unfortunately for Laredo children, the average summer temperature and high sun exposure keep most kids away from City of Laredo parks without shade structures,” he adds. “Additionally, the high cost of the structures makes it impossible for the City of Laredo Parks and Recreation Department to set aside money to be able to invest in such coverings for their parks.”

That is now about to change, thanks to a donation from a local charitable fund–the Lamar Bruni Vergara Trust–founded after the death of a local philanthropist. The trust has supported a variety of religious, health and educational efforts in South Texas, especially in Laredo. The LBV Trust has awarded $330,500 to the parks and recreation department to design, purchase, and install shade structures for 19 parks; there are currently only 10 parks in Laredo with shade structures. Last summer, the department submitted a grant application to the LBV Trust, highlighting the health effects hot temperatures and harmful sun exposure have on Laredo youth.

By The Numbers

According to Nedil A. Antonini, a local dermatologist and member of the grant application team, the effects of sun exposure in young children can be devastating well into adulthood. “In the United States, most people receive 80 percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by age 18,” he says. “What that means is that the skin has already been severely damaged by exposure to ultra-violet radiation. Now in Laredo, the ultra-violet index, that is, the indication of how strong the radiation is on a given day, is consistently higher, with stronger, more direct ultra-violet radiation, than other places in the United States because of its location and proximity to the equator.”

Antonini points out that while all other cancers are decreasing or staying stable, the rate of melanoma in the United States is increasing at a rate of four to five percent per year. “These shade structures will help prevent these cancers and other effects of sun exposure, such as wrinkles, sun spots and early loss of elastic fibers. These kids will really be grateful when they turn 35,” he concludes.

During the summer months and beyond, the intense heat that overwhelms visitors to the community frequently earns the city the nation’s top hot spot on The Weather Channel. Local weatherman Richard “Heatwave” Berler, a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist from the American Meteorological Society, has been tracking Laredo temperatures since his early college days, and has found some remarkable facts: “On average, Laredo annually experiences 178 days (almost half the year) in which the temperature is 90 F or higher, of which 81 of those days are 100 F or higher,” says Berler. “While Laredo usually sees its first 100 F day around April 10, it has come as early as February 18, and while the last 100 F day is around September 26, it can come as late as November 17.” (We almost made it on November 27, 2005, when we hit 99 F.)

Berler offers an interesting example for comparison: “In San Antonio [approximately 150 miles north of Laredo], they experience, on average, 111 days in which the temperature is 90 F or higher, with seven of those days hitting 100 F or higher. That means that Laredo endures more than two months more days … of both 90 F and 100 F weather than San Antonio, making Laredo much hotter to bear,” he concludes.

A Safe Place To Play

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