Water pollution

Key West bans sunscreens that harm coral reefs

A school of snapper in the Florida Keys.
The Florida Keys. Photo by Getty Images

City officials in Key West voted this week to prohibit the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals scientists say are harmful to the coral reef ecosystem, beginning on Jan. 2, 2021.

Why it matters: Supporters of the measure are calling it an important step to protect the Florida Keys, the largest and only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S., and the third-largest barrier reef system in the world. However, opponents — including some dermatologists and trade groups — are calling for more research, arguing that banning the sale of some sunscreens could lead to a spike in skin cancer rates, the New York Times reports. Last year, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale and distribution of similar sunscreens, also slated to take effect in 2021.

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Non-renewable energy's other environmental problem: water waste

Cracks have formed on the bottom of a drained carp pond, while in the background water vapour rises from the cooling towers of the Jänschwalde lignite-fired power plant of Lausitz Energie Bergbau
The bottom of a drained carp pond near the cooling towers of the Jänschwalde lignite-fired power plant of in Brandenburg, Germany, on November 30, 2018. Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

In the U.S., 45% of the water pulled from reservoirs, rivers, oceans and underground aquifers is used to cool thermal (fossil fuel) and nuclear power plants for electricity production. Of that water, 73% is fresh, amounting to significantly more than is used for agricultural irrigation — and that still doesn't include water used in processes like fracking to acquire the fuel in the first place.

Why it matters: Although power plants have made small efficiency improvements, they continue to use enormous amounts of water. As demand grows in cities and on farms, competition for water among humans, agriculture and power plants is becoming more intense, especially in drought-prone regions and large population centers.

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