TAMPA — On the brink of a long, hot summer, the idea intrigued City Council member Harry Cohen: Why not put free sunscreen dispensers at city parks?
"We all know how hot it gets," he said at Thursday's council meeting. The dispensers, he said, could be a creative way to "provide a huge service" at low cost.
Make Big Change, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit created to fight skin cancer, told the council it would donate 20 of the canary-yellow dispensers to the city. Over the past year, it has placed 250 of them in Boston.
The battery-operated dispensers use an infrared sensor to deliver a 1.5-milliliter dose of SPF 30 sunscreen without the user having to touch the unit. Each holds a liter of sunscreen — enough for more than 660 applications — and includes a shatterproof mirror, a space for sponsor advertising and a light that signals when it's empty.
But the city would have to pay for the sunscreen. Based on an estimate that Make Big Change executive director Laurie Seavey provided to the City Council, that cost could range from $8,000 to $12,000 a year for 20 dispensers.
Kim DeGance of Palma Ceia said she learned about Make Big Change while working with other moms on an application for a grant to pay for a sun shade at Corona Park.
"I thought, 'What a great idea,' " DeGance said, and not just for her neighborhood park. "I think it would be great on Bayshore."
Make Big Change was founded in 2014 after the U.S. Surgeon General called for action to prevent skin cancer.
"We're looking to launch a national campaign: SPF is your BFF," Seavey said. More melanomas are diagnosed annually than prostate, lung and breast cancers combined, she said, and up to 90 percent are likely to be caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays. "It's the most diagnosed cancer, but it's also the most preventable."
The council asked the Parks Department to look into the idea and report back on July 14.
The goal is consistent with other city efforts, parks director Greg Bayor said.
"We make our lifeguards wear hats and put umbrellas on pool decks," he said. "We have put shade structures at a lot of the new playgrounds, and we've made budget requests for more shade structures. We're trying to get kids in the shade as much as possible."
That said, the city likely would have to put out a request for proposals so that anyone could bid on the program if officials decide to pursue it. Bayor also said his staff needs to do some research.
"We're going to have to look at what risks are involved, risk being liability," he said.
Not a problem, Seavey told the council. Both the sunscreen manufacturer and Make Big Change carry insurance, she said, "so if somebody was to put this on their hot dog, we're all set."
The council's discussion was timely and not just because of the season.
This week, the online finance network WalletHub ranked St. Petersburg as one of the worst places in the nation for the risk of skin cancer.
The study looked at 150 U.S. cities and considered factors such as the climate, the rate of melanomas, the skin-cancer death rate, and number of tanning salons per 100,000 residents. With fewer than 4 skin-cancer deaths per 100,00 residents, Tampa was ranked better than St. Petersburg, where the death rate tops 7 per 100,000.
Contact Richard Danielson at (813) 226-3403 or [email protected] Follow @Danielson_Times.