Hawaii to ban certain sunscreens harmful to coral reefs

Hawaii lawmakers passed a bill today banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals believed to be harmful to coral reefs, becoming the first US state to enact such a law

The chemicals in question, Benzophenone-3 (BP-3; oxybenzone) and octinoxate are ingredients in sunscreen lotions and personal-care products that protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. However, oxybenzone and oxtinoxate are both emerging contaminants of concern in marine environments—produced by swimmers and municipal, residential, and boat/ship wastewater discharges.

The chemicals are used in over 3,500 of the most popular sunscreen products, and have been shown to have have devastating effects on marine invertebrates, especially on juvenile developmental stages.  In coral, it can cause coral bleaching, DNA damage, planula deformity, mortality, and skeletal endocrine disruption. It causes severe deformities in fish larvae, expanding the mouth (oral pore) more than 10x its normal size, exposing the yolk. In fish embryo, depending on the concentration, it can cause deformities in the eye, heart, and spine, and even severely lethal changes where no development occurs at all. About 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s reefs every year, according to a 2015 paper published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.


The bill, which would take effect in 2021, now awaits the signature of Democratic Governor David Ige. The bill states that the chemicals kill developing coral, increase coral bleaching and cause “genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms”

Democratic Senator Mike Gabbard introduced the bill, which proposes to end the sale of any non-prescription sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, statewide. Mr Gabbard told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that if the governor signs the bill, it would become “a first-in-the-world law”.

Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens,” Mr Gabbard said.

This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health.”

In another effort to protect Hawaii’s reefs, Hawaiian Airlines last month began offering passengers free samples of natural sunscreens without those ingredients. The airline is also encouraging its passengers to learn more about Hawaii by showing a 11-minute documentary on each flight about the environmental challenges affecting reefs.
Craig Downs, one of the co-authors of the main study showing the adverse effects of oxybenzone and octinoxate on reefs, told the Washington Post in 2015 that “any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers”.


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