The Florida Senate acted this week to prevent towns and cities including Key West from banning the sale of sunscreen items that contain chemicals which can potentially harm coral reefs.
In a 12-4 vote on Wednesday, the Rules Committee sent a measure (SB 172) to the Senate floor that is intended to block local regulation of over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics, with a focus on sunscreens.
According to Republican Senator and bill sponsor Rob Bradley, who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, local governments should not be allowed to put restrictions on sunscreen, as it is needed to protect Floridians as well as tourists from getting skin cancer.
He adds, “All sunscreen should be available throughout the state of Florida for people who buy it so that they can protect themselves. We should listen to those (skin cancer) experts and listen to that science, which is clear. We should not listen to junk science. That’s another thing I think our constituents expect of us.”
The issue revolves around sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Bradley cites findings by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the Legislature’s research arm, about the effects of the chemicals. The agency concluded that oxybenzone and octinoxate have negative effects on corals and marine life when they are exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.”
The agency added that the chemicals could also be found in seawater from “wastewater effluent, leaching from plastics, and leaching from hull paints on ships.”
Deborah Foote, director of government affairs for the Sierra Club Florida, says people can easily use sunscreens without the disputed chemicals.
The use of chemical sunscreens is not worth the risk to the reefs in tourist destinations such as Key West, according to the Surfrider Foundation’s Florida policy manager director, Holly Parker Curry.
She explained before the vote, “Coral reefs are immensely valuable not only to Florida’s economy generally but particularly to the Keys and Key West,” Curry said in her testimony before Monday’s vote. In addition, Curry cited estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which show that Florida’s coral reefs have an asset value of $8.5 billion and support around 70,000 jobs.
Florida League of Cities legislative director Rebecca O’Hara advised the committee to postpone enacting the preemption until more research could be conducted on the impact of the chemicals on coral reefs. She cautions, “I think there is probably good science out there, but I think it’s fair to say there is probably not enough to convince everybody.”
“Our visitors are not expected to understand or appreciate the various particularities of different cities or counties and know what the rules are,” says Republican Senator Kathleen Passidomo, of Naples.
She continues, “As a local government passes an ordinance that is totally different than anywhere else in the state, how are we supposed to know about it? You can have visitors coming to Key West without sunscreen, without products that protect their skin and then they can’t buy them. That’s just one example of why sometimes it’s in the best interest of the state of Florida that we preempt certain activities.”
An identical bill in the House (HB 113) needs to get approval from two more panels before it can go to the full House. The Key West ban is scheduled to go into effect in January of next year.