Ahhh, summertime in Boston, a city that’s still haunted by the meteorological horrors of this past winter: concerts at the Hatch Shell, leisurely strolls through the Public Garden, ball games at the Green Monster, gelato scarfing in the North End, heinous sunburns that just won’t quit.
As for that last one, city officials are hoping that radiation-seared appendages will be less of an issue for the fair — and fair skinned — residents of Beantown this summer thanks to a new pilot program that’s bringing a total of 30 free public sunscreen dispensers to five of the city’s most high-traffic parks. Depending on how things go, the city could potentially install parking meter-esque dispensers to all 200-plus parks and playgrounds across the city.
While looking like a lobstah may be a warm weather rite of passage for residents living in New England’s largest city, the potential health risks associated with not protecting oneself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays should be taken seriously. But as Boston City Councilor Matt O’ Malley, a man who looks like he’s experienced a bit of UVR-induced erythema in his day, explains to WBUR, the ill effects of a wicked bad sunburn can easily be avoided by simply slathering on protection before heading outdoors:
“Skin cancer and melanoma are among the most prevalent cancers and they’re also among the most preventable,” says O’Malley. “So what we are doing in Boston is, we’re offering a service, we’re promoting public health and we’re reminding folks of the importance of sunscreen — at no cost to the taxpayer. It’s an incredibly wonderful initiative and I look forward to seeing it spreading across the country much like the way my freckles spread every summer.”
The initiative, introduced by O’Malley and launched in partnership by the Melanoma Foundation of New England, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and skin cancer awareness nonprofit Make Big Change, is believed to be the first municipal sunscreen dispenser scheme of its kind in the Northeast. Miami Beach, home of hot bods and leathery skin, kicked off a similar initiative earlier this year. The Miami Beach pilot program served as an inspiration for the one in Boston.
Stocked with what sounds to be straightforward, “all-natural” SPF-30 sunscreen (sorry, no fancy Banana Boat bronzing lotions here), each strategically placed, weather-resistant dispenser costs between $100 and $200. As mentioned by O’Malley, the tab will be picked up by the joint partnership behind the initiative, not taxpayers. According to a press release issued by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the Melanoma Foundation of New England will “subsidize the cost and procurement" of the sunscreen dispensers through "private and corporate sponsorship donations, and funds raised by MFNE's Running for Cover, one of the Boston Athletic Association's Official Charity Teams for the 2015 Boston Marathon."
Each dispenser will display a full list of ingredients found in the sunscreen, which is safe for skin aged 6-months and up.
O’Malley and city leaders hope that that sunscreen squirtin’ machines will not only see a lot of action from those who forget to lotion-up at home, active individuals who need to reapply and folks who cannot otherwise afford to buy it — they also view the dispensers as a sort of action-oriented interactive PSA reminding Bostonians to take proper care before heading out into the sun.
And while Boston may seem an unlikely place to install sunscreen dispensers, Boston.com notes that New England actually has some of the highest skin cancer rates in the country.
The reason? It all boils down to skin color and prevailing cultural attitudes toward sunscreen use. Statistically, Caucasians experience higher rates of skin cancer and New England is, well, predominately white. Massachusetts, for example, is 83 percent white. And because the weather in New England, with its brutal winters and mostly mild summers, isn’t exactly tropical, many residents have long-neglected to regularly use sunscreen. Many New Englanders keep their SPF-laden tubes and sprays stashed away for their annual wintertime trip to South Florida.
The first five Boston parks to get the sunscreen dispensers are Boston Common, Jamaica Pond, East Boston Memorial Park, Christopher Columbus Park in the North End and Millennium Park in Roxbury.
Related on MNN:
- Gadget-charging park benches being unrolled across Boston are wicked smart
- Why I don't wear sunscreen
- Why Europe has better sunscreens than we do