Hawaii Passes Bill To Ban Sunscreen Products In Hopes Of Saving Coral Reefs, Other Marine Life

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The chemicals found in sunscreens are widely believed to be partly responsible for the damage inflicted on the world’s coral reefs and other forms of marine life. With this in mind, the state of Hawaii passed a bill Tuesday that would ban certain sunscreen products with ingredients associated with coral reef damage.

According to a report from BuzzFeed News, the potential ban affects all sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate and will take effect starting in 2021, should the bill be signed by Hawaii Governor David Ige. Separately, the Huffington Post noted that the bill affects the sale and distribution of sunscreens with the two chemicals, but does not cover prescription sunscreens that happen to include the chemicals among their ingredients.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate were previously singled out by researchers as being especially harmful to coral reefs, as they steal nutrients and prevent fish, algae, sea urchins, and other marine life from thriving. Sunscreen products with those chemicals are deadly enough to have a harmful effect in concentrations as small as 62 parts per trillion, which BuzzFeed News explained is equivalent to the water in six Olympic-size swimming pools with one drop of oxybenzone.

BuzzFeed cited a 2015 study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, which stated that the world’s coral reefs are affected each year by about 14,000 tons of sunscreen, with the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and other tourist hotspots having the highest sunscreen concentrations. Furthermore, a 2017 study took a look at Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay, an area commonly frequented by snorkelers, and found that about 412 pounds of sunscreen were left each day by its 2,600 or so daily visitors.

Although choosing not to swim in the ocean while wearing sunscreen with oxybenzone and octinoxate might seem like a good alternative, BGR warned that rinsing the sunscreen off in the shower would likely result in the chemicals flowing down the sewers and into the oceans, as the two chemicals are not affected by water treatment.

“More and more people realize, as you go home and shower the water is getting treated and put out into the ocean,” said Hawaii Sen. Laura Thielen, in an interview with KHON2.

“So really, it’s damaging our corals no matter whether you’re wearing it on land or at the beach.”

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Hawaii’s potential sunscreen ban may have the approval of Thielen and other lawmakers, but it has its share of detractors, including dermatologist Doug Johnson, who warned in a Hawaii Civil Beat op-ed that banning the products might result in an increase in cases of skin cancer, especially melanoma, which is the seventh-leading cancer-related cause of death in the United States.

“A ban on these sunscreens in Hawaii — the state with the highest daily UV index warnings and very high rates of skin cancer and melanoma — would be a public health disaster.”

If signed, Hawaii’s sunscreen ban could affect some of the more popular brands in the market, such as Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Hawaiian Tropic. However, BuzzFeed wrote that there are several products, including some from the potentially affected brands, that use titanium oxide, zinc oxide, and other less harmful ingredients as alternatives.