Florida tourist haven Key West wants to protect coral reefs that attract divers, so it’s banning sunscreens that contain chemicals that could harm them. But Florida lawmakers who think it’s more important to protect humans are moving toward outlawing the Key West’s sunscreen ban and making sure no other local governments impose similar ordinances.
The battle pits local governments against state government and environmentalists against dermatologists in an argument about coral bleaching and skin cancer.
“Melanoma is a very, very serious thing,” said Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, who is sponsoring the bill to ban sunscreen bans. “We’re the Sunshine State and a lot of people stay outside, and we should be encouraging people to use sunscreen, not discouraging it.”
If the bill doesn’t become law, the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate in Key West will be illegal starting in 2021. Research has shown the chemicals can cause coral bleaching, and the reefs around Key West attract divers, snorkelers and fishing enthusiasts. The city at the southern end of the Florida Keys isn’t the only place to ban the products: Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean island of Bonaire and the archipelago nation of Palau in the western Pacific have all enacted sunscreen bans that are either in place or will be over the next two years.
Drug store chain CVS announced in August that it will remove the chemicals from 60 of its store brand sunscreen products.
“There certainly is a substantial and growing body of evidence that these two chemicals damage reefs,” said Holly Parker Curry, the Florida regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to protect oceans and beaches. “The Florida Keys are trying desperately to save one of the most important resources they have.”
Miami Beach considered a similar ban, but eventually took no action. Otherwise, Parker Curry says there isn’t a rush by local governments to ban the products. She said lawmakers are overreacting to one city ordinance.
The Republican-led Legislature has had a history of prohibiting local governments from enacting laws, most notably when it passed a law banning local governments from enacting ordinances regulating gun and ammunition sales. And earlier this year Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a Bradley bill that prohibits local governments from banning front-yard vegetable gardens.
Bradley’s sunscreen bill has been approved by two committees with minimal opposition and has one more stop before it can be considered by the full Senate. An identical House bill will get its first of three committee hearings on Wednesday.