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EPA Report: 22 Million Cataract Cases Will Be Prevented by Stronger Ozone Layer Protection

Release Date: 07/30/2010
Contact Information: Dave Ryan Ryan.dave@epa.gov 202-564-7827 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency marked the beginning of Cataract Awareness Month by announcing a new peer-reviewed report predicting that more than 22 million additional cataract cases will be avoided for Americans born between 1985 and 2100 due to the Montreal Protocol. The environmental treaty, signed by 196 countries, was designed to reduce and eventually eliminate ozone depleting substances. Too much UV radiation not only increases the risk for skin cancer, but also increases the risk for cataracts -- a clouding of the eye’s lens that affects more than 20 million Americans age 40 and older.

“Since the 1970s, we have prevented millions of skin cancer cases and deaths through our work protecting the ozone layer,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “I am excited to kick off Cataract Awareness Month by announcing that the science has now enabled us to estimate our impact on cataracts.”

Due to the success of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is predicted to recover to pre-1980 levels after 2065. In the meantime, under a compromised ozone layer, more ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. While treatment for cataracts is widely available in the U.S., the costs are high, with direct medical costs estimated to be $6.8 billion per year

For the first time, EPA is able to include data on cataract risk by gender and skin type in the report. However, all people, regardless of gender and skin type, are at risk for cataracts. This is why it is important for adults and children to use eyewear that absorbs UV rays and to wear a wide-brimmed hat.

The following changes in vision may be signs of cataracts:
Blurred vision, double vision, ghost images, the sense of a "film" over the eyes
Lights seem too dim for reading or close-up work, or feeling "dazzled" by strong light
Changing eyeglass prescriptions often, and the change does not seem to help.

Information on the report:
http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/effects/index.html.

More information on eye damage: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/eyedamage.pdf.

More information on the Montreal Protocol: http://www.epa.gov/ozone/intpol/