The city of Key West took the first step Tuesday toward becoming the first place on the mainland U.S. to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain certain chemicals, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which some studies have shown can harm corals.
Key West's proposed ordinance was based on a similar measure approved in the state of Hawaii last year.
Dozens of local residents held a rally outside City Hall before the meeting — and so did a smaller group of dermatologists, who oppose the ban.
Dr. Andy Weinstein, president of the Florida Society of Dermatology, traveled from Boynton Beach to attend and speak at the meeting.
"The reality is that there's really no data that demonstrates that these sunscreens are deleterious to coral reefs. But there certainly is data that proves that ultraviolet light is terrible for people," he said.
Joyce Milelli of Key West is a home care nurse and said she does worry about skin cancer. But she also said there are lots of sunscreens that don't contain the two chemicals at issue and instead rely on minerals like zinc to protect skin.
Skin cancer "is a big problem, no doubt. But we're all for promoting safe sunscreens — safe for humans and the reef and our fragile ecosystem," she said.
The measure passed unanimously on first reading. But commissioners said they wanted more research, and to hear from local reef experts before taking a final vote. And at least one commissioner — Gregory Davila — said he has some serious concerns about the proposed ban.
"We would be telling our residents that use sunscreen — our utility workers, our city employees, our delivery drivers, our postal employees, any residents that need to go out and do some yard work — that you can't buy the best sunscreen for your choosing," Davila said. "And these people aren't even going out to the reef."
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley was one of the proposal's sponsors. He said even if global warming and other factors are more significant in the decline of the reef, getting rid of some sunscreens is still worthwhile.
"This may be our last shot. It's not the major cause of the loss of our reef. We all know that. There's many different reasons," Weekley said. "But this is one reason that we can do something about."