The Florida Senate is moving quickly to prevent towns like Key West from banning the sale of sunscreens that contain potentially coral reef harming chemicals.
In a 12-4 vote Wednesday, the Rules Committee sent to the Senate floor a measure (SB 172) designed to block local regulation of over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics, with the issue focused on sunscreens.
Bill sponsor Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said local governments should not be allowed to put restrictions on any types of sunscreen. He said sunscreen is needed to protect Floridians and tourists from getting skin cancer.
Bradley also contended Key West and other communities looking at similar sunscreen rules were “fooled by junk science.”
“All sunscreen should be available throughout the state of Florida for people who buy it so that they can protect themselves,” Bradley said. “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 centers on sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have drawn concerns about harming coral reefs.
Bradley, however, pointed to findings by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the Legislature’s research arm, which compiled research about the effects of the chemicals. The agency known as OPPAGA concluded oxybenzone and octinoxate have negative effects on corals and marine life when exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.”
The agency said the chemicals may also be found in seawater from “wastewater effluent, leaching from plastics, and leaching from hull paints on ships.”
But Holly Parker Curry, Florida policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation, dismissed the assertion that OPPAGA’s findings concluded studies used by Key West were junk science.
“I think there's scientific consensus that these chemicals impact coral reefs,” Parker Curry said after the meeting. “The state of Hawaii has had a number of panels address this very question and they found that there is scientific consensus that they harm coral reefs. There are a number of studies discussing the issues that these chemicals caused to the health and reproduction and DNA and vulnerability of coral reefs. So, unfortunately, I think the senator's wrong.”
Deborah Foote, director of government affairs for the Sierra Club Florida, said people can use sunscreens without the disputed chemicals. She called Bradley’s comment about officials from Key West being fooled as “rather disingenuous”
“Let's be clear, I don't think this is at all about the inability to protect ourselves from skin cancer,” Foote said.
Florida League of Cities legislative director Rebecca O'Hara told the committee to hold off on enacting the preemption until more research could be conducted into the impact of the chemicals on coral reefs.
“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,” O’Hara said after the meeting.
Bradley’s bill has drawn support from Johnson & Johnson, which makes sunscreens with oxybenzone, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said allowing different communities to have varying rules could be a hardship on tourists.
“Our visitors are not expected to understand or appreciate the various particularities of different cities or counties and know what the rules are,” Passidomo said. “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 could go to the full House. The Key West ban is slated go into effect in January 2021.