Hawaii Bans Popular Sunscreen Chemicals That Damage Coral Reefs

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Sunscreen might be a summertime staple, but it could also be a wrecker of ever so brittle coral reefs. In an attempt to preserve its marine diversity, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sales of sunblocks that contain harmful chemicals.

Most drugstore sunscreens contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which scientists believe to be toxic to coral reefs.

“Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms,” the recently passed legislation reads.

The bill, which Hawaii Governor David Ige signed on Tuesday, will not go into effect until 2021.

“This is just one small step toward protecting and restoring the resiliency of Hawaii’s reefs,” Ige said as cited by CBS News.

In the meantime, the state will continue other conservation efforts such as fighting land runoff, pollution, and invasive species.

Come 2021, Hawaii beachgoers will have to furnish a doctor’s prescription for sunscreen labels containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in order to purchase them in the state. Otherwise, out-of-state vacation makers will have to bring their own sunblock or buy non-toxic brands.

While Hawaii legislators touted the bill as a victory for coral reefs, others expressed concerns about its potential economic repercussions. The state-wide, non-profit association Retail Merchants of Hawaii stated the new rule will deflate the bottom lines of brick-and-mortar stores that sell sunscreen.

Roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, while another two-thirds live under serious threat, according to WWF Global.

A 2015 paper asserts that oxybenzone, which provides UV coverage, contributes to the deformation of coral cells. It also refers to previous research that estimates that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion, which contains anywhere between 1 to 10 percent of oxybenzone, floats into coral reefs every year.

Some 10 percent of the global reefs and 40 percent of those near coastal areas are at risk of oxybenzone contamination, the paper further avers.

Octinoxate is also found in streams, rivers and oceans and, albeit controversial, is said to have negative effects on the thyroid gland and the brain. Used widely in sunscreens as well as other cosmetic ointments, the chemical is banned in the European Union.