DeSantis signs bill prohibiting Florida cities from banning any sunscreens — even those that threaten corals

Cheeca Rocks is one of the seven coral reefs under threat from disease and pollution that is targeted for rescue in Mission: Iconic Reefs. Credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

With summer at hand, Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law a bill prohibiting Key West and all other Florida cities from banning any sunscreens, even those that damage coral reefs off the coast.

The bill, SB 172, was sponsored by Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Republican from a rural, inland district in north Florida.

Sierra Club of Florida, Surfrider Foundation, and others wanted DeSantis to veto the bill, which strikes down the City of Key West’s ban on sales and use of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Studies by agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show those chemicals damage and kill corals.

During the legislative session, Bradley had argued that using sunscreens, regardless what kind, to protect tourists and residents from skin cancer trumps protecting corals from sunscreen.

While the bill was advancing in the 2020 Legislature, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently removed most chemical sunscreens from its list of “safe and effective” products pending health studies. The FDA continues to designate mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as “safe and effective.”

Business interests in Florida lobbied in favor of Bradley’s bill, while environmental organizations and home-rule advocates lobbied against it.

During a signing ceremony Tuesday for the “Clean Waterways Act,” a reporter asked DeSantis to explain how he can support clean water on one hand and on the other allow damage to corals by certain sunscreens that get into the water. He replied that he was advised to focus on the risks of skin cancer.

“That’s the advice I got from doctors and scientists,” the governor said.

Sierra and Surfrider blasted DeSantis for signing the bill, preempting home rule and failing to protect endangered coral reefs they value at $8.4 billion annually in terms of attracting tourists, local sales and income, and supporting local jobs.

“When it comes to protecting Florida’s coral reefs, the Governor is standing with corporate interests, despite millions of taxpayer dollars spent on reef preservation and restoration,” the groups said Tuesday in a joint press release.

“SB 172 is yet another example of the Legislature forcing a one-size-fits-none solution for Florida communities,” said Holly Parker Curry, Florida policy manager for Surfrider Foundation. “Rather than taking a stand for local control and environmental protection, the Florida Legislature and Governor DeSantis have stripped Floridians of the ability to protect one of the state’s most precious ecological and economic assets, the Florida Reef Tract.”