Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Florida Gov. DeSantis Prohibits Cities From Banning Sunscreens, Even Ones That Harm Coral

Florida Gov. DeSantis Prohibits Cities From Banning Sunscreens, Even Ones That Harm Coral

Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus

On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.

SB 172 responds to and reverses the City of Key West's 2019 ban on the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect its coral reef. The ban was set to take effect Jan. 1, 2021, but the new law strikes down that ban and prohibits similar ones.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Key West sits on Florida's Reef Tract, the only barrier reef in the continental U.S.

Florida's multi-billion coastal economy "is highly tied to the coral reefs and dependent on their health," the Environmental and Energy Study Institute found.

Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral, according to experts, reported ABC News.

"(Coral reefs) provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental services, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism," said a NOAA infographic article about the harms of sunscreens. The infographic focuses on how sunscreen chemicals enter the ocean environment, the harm they cause to marine life including corals, fish, algae, etc. and alternative, reef-safe ways to stay protected from the sun.

Common chemicals in sunscreens and cosmetics are "highly toxic" to marine life and "even very low concentrations" of oxybenzone and octinoxate accumulate in coral tissue, inducing bleaching, damaging coral DNA and deforming and killing young coral larvae, according to NOAA.

This harm to the next generation of reefs threatens the survival of corals generally at a time when reefs are already heavily imperiled. NOAA called nontoxic sunscreen alternatives "critical" to protect reefs against "exacerbating effects posted by climate change and bleaching."

Oxybenzone and octinoxate also disrupt the human endocrine system.

Even while the new Florida bill was moving towards DeSantis' desk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration removed most chemical sunscreens from its list of "safe and effective" products pending health studies, instead designating mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as "safe and effective, reported Florida Phoenix.

Proponents of the bill, including many business interests, claim sunscreen is necessary to protect the residents and visitors to the sunshine state from skin cancer.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley spearheaded the bill, disputing the science claiming that sunscreens harm reefs. He argued that protecting tourists and residents from cancer trumps protecting coral reefs, reported Florida Phoenix and CBS Miami.

Those criticizing the bill call it the latest attack on local government home-rule authority as well as on coral reefs, reported Star Tribune.

Some have called the bill a "gross overreaction" to Key West's "measured and reasonable limitation" meant to protect their lucrative, important natural resource, reported Sun-Sentinel.

"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," environmental groups said Tuesday in a joint press release, reported Florida Phoenix.

NOAA said that "although pollution is a major cause of coral reef degradation," it is also "the easiest factor to mitigate" because manufacturers and consumers can choose to create and purchase less harmful products. The only issue, NOAA found, was that regulation of the toxic chemicals in sunscreens "has largely been ignored."

DeSantis did not issue statements as his office Monday night released the new bill, reported CBS Miami.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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