Lawmakers adopt bill blocking local sunscreen bans

Sunscreens resist skin cancer but ones with certain ingredients are believed to harm Florida corals and may not be safe for human health. Photo: Catherine Ledner

The Florida House voted Tuesday to prevent local governments from banning certain sunscreen ingredients that are believed to harm coral reefs and are under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Senate passed the legislation early in the session, so it now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature or veto.

The governor, who has on occasion vetoed environmental-related legislation that preempted home rule — or local governments’ authority to set local policy — has not announced his intentions for this bill.

In both chambers, Republicans supported the preemption bill (SB 172) and Democrats opposed it.

House sponsor Rep. Spencer Roach, a Lee County Republican, argued the health risks from skin cancer trumped other concerns. He conceded that mineral-based sunscreens are widely available that do not contain the suspect chemical ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Still, he insisted, the mineral-based formulas including ingredients such as zinc oxide are less popular with consumers, who might be less likely to use them and thus more likely to develop skin cancer.

Rep. Tina Scott  Polsky, a Palm Beach Democrat, countered that local governments including Key West, which banned chemical sunscreens linked to coral-reef damage in local waters, should decide for themselves based on their communities’ needs.

“I have to be down on it today in favor of home rule,” Polsky said.

The City of Key West, organizations representing local elected officials and numerous environmental groups opposed the preemption of limited sunscreen bans, citing two arguments: that there is ample evidence that the chemical sunscreens contribute to the demise of corals, and that the Legislature should respect home rule.

“People are tired of the Florida Legislature stomping on the rights of citizens who want to make decisions to protect their local communities,” Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, said in a written statement.

“This isn’t right. If the people of Key West are concerned about how sunscreen ingredients are harming their world-renowned reef, they have the right to pass a protective law. It’s ridiculous that the Legislature would vote to prevent that.”

While not weighing in on corals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently removed oxybenzone and octinoxate from its list of “safe and effective” chemicals used in sunscreens. Instead, the FDA is investigating whether those chemicals — long presumed to be safe — actually are dangerous to humans.

The state of Hawaii bans sunscreens containing those chemicals, and lawmakers there propose banning them for human use pending the findings of the FDA.