Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., singled out SunWise for termination in a 2011 deficit-reduction plan he developed.
“Despite many challenges threatening our natural environment from pollution, the EPA has dedicated significant resources to SunWise,” Coburn said, urging that the program should be consolidated with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention efforts and the National Weather Service’s ultraviolet index reporting.
Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, said those government agencies are already dealing with tight budgets of their own. He said the federal government lacks another “solid, comprehensive program” to educate children about the dangers of UV ray exposure.
“We are dealing with a situation that is rising to epidemic rate,” Turnham said, referring to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the CDC, with the number of melanoma cases rising by almost 2 percent a year between 2000 and 2009.
The American Academy of Dermatology reports that more than 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed annually in the United States.
SunWise provides schools and partners with a tool kit that includes more than 50 standards-based cross-curricular activities, a UV-sensitive Frisbee for experiments and books and posters. The program is designed to fit seamlessly into a school’s curriculum.
After participation in the program, sunburn rates fell and more students knew the right sun protection factor number of sunscreen to wear, according to surveys. The surveys also showed that fewer children who participated in the program thought people look healthier with a suntan.
While the EPA says the effort no longer needs federal support, advocates worry that the gains will erode if SunWise goes away.
For example, the Arizona law that requires SunWise to be taught in all public schools only mandates the training if the EPA program remains free to schools.
Antonishak said supporters have fended off earlier efforts to get rid of SunWise and his group has written to the top EPA appropriators in both chambers, urging them to reject the administration’s proposal to kill the program.
Despite past victories, Antonishak said the outlook this fiscal year “seems more grim than ever before,” given the austere cuts required by the sequester.
“The EPA SunWise program isn’t unique from being scrutinized by all eyes,” Antonishak said.