Key West passed a ban on sunscreens believed to contain chemicals that can harm its iconic coral reefs. Certain sunscreens have been found to contain chemicals that are suspected of bleaching reefs.
But some state lawmakers have proposed bills which would undo the regulation and make sure no other local governments impose ordinances blocking over-the-counter products, which protect humans from damaging sun exposure.
A bill sponsored by Republican State Sen. Rob Bradley has been approved in two committees and has one more stop before reaching the full state Senate. Bradley said Monday that Key West is sending “mixed signals” to people about the importance of sunscreen, and his bill aims to send a message to the “country and the world” that sunscreen use is encouraged in the Sunshine State, according to the Naples Daily News.
“Unfortunately, with all of the wonderful things that come with our beaches and our sunshine, we also rank second in the nation for the highest rate of new melanoma cases,” said Bradley. He said sunscreen is the “first line of defense” against skin cancer.
An identical House bill will make the first of three committee stops Wednesday.
As of now, the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate in Key West will be illegal beginning in 2021. Around 70 percent of sunscreens on the market contain the chemicals.
Attorney and lobbyist Jason Unger, representing the city of Key West, on Monday urged the Senate panel to vote down the bill, arguing such protections of the coral reefs are essential to the city’s tourism-driven economy.
Deborah Foote, director of government affairs for the Sierra Club in Florida, said that rather than take away local control over sunscreen regulations, the state should invest in research to find out the concentrations of the two chemicals in the area surrounding the depleting coral reefs.
“The state does have a compelling interest to protect the Florida reef, now that it is investing millions of state and federal dollars in coral reef restorations,” Foote told the committee.
The legislature’s research arm did conduct a study this year which found that oxybenzone and oxytoxinate have negative effects on both coral reefs and marine life when exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.”
There was dispute over just how much concentration that allowed for, but it led Bradley to believe the amounts found in the sunscreen were not enough to be detrimental to sea life. “You have to apply (the chemicals) directly, in an intense matter to the coral reefs over a long period of time in a little, small space. We are talking about a large ocean around the coral reefs here, so the OPPAGA study supports what we are doing right here,”
The study found the chemicals are also found in seawater from “wastewater effluent, leaching from plastics, and leaching from hull paints on ships.”
But other unrelated factors contribute to coral death as well, according to the research, such as warmer ocean temperatures, air and land pollution and hurricanes.
Environmental groups support the ban on sunscreens, but the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Association and the Florida Society of Dermatology and Surgery support Bradley’s bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.