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Legislation preempting local governments from regulating sunscreen passes House committee

Roach says there’s no definitive science sunscreen chemicals harm coral reefs.

The science just isn’t there. 

That was Republican State Rep. Spencer Roach’s message to the House Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Tuesday. His legislation (HB 113) preempting local governments from prohibiting sunscreen bans passed the committee 10-5 along party lines.

Roach said there is no definitive proof that sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to the bleaching of coral reefs. He points to the Florida’s Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability’s compilation of 18 studies looking at those chemicals as proof that there’s a lack of science proving a link between sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate and coral reef damage. 

“I do share the concern about protecting coral reefs,” he said. “I spent my entire first career protecting Environment Protection regulations, protecting the marine environment, I’m very concerned about the corals … lifelong avid scuba diver. If I believed that these two things were harming the coral reefs, I would certainly not be bringing this bill.”

According to peer-reviewed studies compiled by OPPAGA, they found that oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens have negative effects on corals and marine life when exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.” The Department of Commerce has also found sunscreen and other cosmetics have chemicals that can harm marine life.

OPPGA researchers also noted the chemicals may also be found in seawater from “wastewater effluent, leaching from plastics, and leaching from hull paints on ships.” 

Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani offered an amendment that would allow coastal areas with coastal reefs to regulate chemical sunscreens, but it failed to gain enough support. 

Rebecca O’Hara of the Florida League of Cities said while Roach doesn’t believe the science is definitive on the harms to coral reefs, there is evidence it is affecting them.

“And while you may parse whether or not it deals with high concentrations applied to coral or it’s not sunscreen specific, that doesn’t justify doing nothing,” she said. 

State Rep. Shevrin Jones questioned Roach on why private companies are removing products that are viewed less environmentally friendly on their own, such as plastic straws

Roach said that he supports that free marketplace approach, but the government shouldn’t come in and prevent consumers from using effective sunscreen that protects them from sunburns and skin cancer. 

The bill heads next to the Health and Human Services Committee. Its Senate companion is scheduled for a floor vote tomorrow.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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