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Group Targets Proposed Key West Ban On Some Sunscreens

Coral reefs face numerous threats and some chemicals used in sunscreens have been found to harm corals.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Over the summer, Hawaii became the first place in the United States to ban sunscreens with chemicals that have been found to harm corals. Now Key West is considering a similar ban. And a group opposing the ban is fighting back — online.

If you're in Key West and open a video on YouTube, there's a new ad on heavy rotation.

"Thousands of people in Key West spend their 9 to 5 under the sun," a narrator says, over images of people on a commercial fishing boat and working at a construction site. "They have a very high UV risk. So they need access to the best protection."

Then there's a link to a website where you can email Key West city commissioners.

"I’m asking you to reject a ban on sunscreen ingredients so that I can continue to use the formulas that I prefer and rely on for skin protection," it says — though users are encouraged to personalize their messages.

The website is the work of the Public Access to SunScreens coalition, described on its website as "a multi-stakeholder coalition of public health organizations, dermatologists, sunscreen ingredient companies and concerned citizens whose mission is to help prevent skin cancer and improve public health by ensuring Americans have access to safe and effective sunscreens and evidence-based education on sun-safe practices."

Members listed on the site include DeWolf Chemical, Johnson & Johnson Consumer and the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The proposed ordinance in Key West is modeled on Hawaii's ban. It would prevent sunscreens containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate from being sold or distributed on the island. Retailers would have a year to get them off the shelves.

Reef Relief, a local environmental group, started a campaign for "responsible sunscreen"use last fall, and supports the proposed measure.

Tiny amounts of the chemicals can harm reefs, said Dora DeMaria, Reef Relief's education coordinator.

"It causes genetic damage," she said. "It affects their reproduction so they become infertile. It disrupts their ability to maneuver when they're in that larval stage."

And DeMaria said it makes them more susceptible to coral bleaching and disease.

"And especially coral disease is a really big problem down here, because of all the other water quality issues we have," she said.

Reef Relief recommends using "ocean-friendly" sunscreens with mineral ingredients.

"You can go into Publix and Walgreens and you already have the zinc oxide based or the titanium dioxide based or the organic instead," she said. "It's not like we're taking sunscreen completely away. We are just replacing the sunscreen with the bad ingredients with sunscreens that have good ingredients."

A phone call to the group opposing the ban was not returned Thursday and an email bounced back.

The Key West City Commission is scheduled to consider the ban at its meeting Jan. 15.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.