Key West bans chemicals found in sunscreen

Graphic by Dana Dauletgalikyzy

On February 5 the Key West City Commission voted 6 – 1 to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. This will go into effect in 2021. Key West isn’t the first city to ban these chemicals. Hawaii banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate early last year.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the active ingredients in most name-brand sunscreens, for example some products from Coppertone and Neutrogena contain those chemicals. Although, there are many name-brand and eco-friendly brands of sunscreen that do not contain those harmful chemicals.

The Food and Drug Administration currently reports that oxybenzone and octinoxate is safe, but many scientists have found that it has many negative effects on the environment and human health.

There have been several studies that have linked oxybenzone and octinoxate to medical conditions. These chemicals enter the bloodstream when applied to the skin. Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency found that chemicals in sunscreen can affect human reproductive and thyroid hormones.

The chemicals found in sunscreen have been linked to coral bleaching – where coral polyps expel from their calcium carbonate shells.

A team of researchers, including a University of Central Florida professor, found that an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen is deposited into the ocean and makes its way to the coral reef each year.

Key West receives over 2 million tourists annually, most who wear sunscreen when they snorkel the coral reef.

Although, the chemicals in sunscreen are not the only cause of coral bleaching. Warming water temperatures from climate change, overfishing, damage from boats, and water pollution are others factors that cause coral bleaching. Some species of coral are considered endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral are endangered and native to the Florida Keys.

Environmentalists agree that banning oxybenzone and octinoxate is a step in the right direction towards reversing the effects of climate change.

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