Lawmakers could ban sunscreens with toxic chemicals that are damaging reefs

Local News

Sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate could soon be banned from sale here in Hawaii.

Scientists said the chemicals are wreaking havoc on Hawaii’s reefs.

Senate Bill 2571 would ban the sale or distribution of any sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate in Hawaii. The bill is related to the environment, specifically water pollution.

If legislators pass the bill, it would go into effect in July 2019. Lawmakers have until April 27, 2018 to make a decision.

Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay, is a staunch supporter of the ban.

“Probably for the last 30 years or so sunscreen pollution has been the primary cause of not allowing the fore-reef to recover. Most of the fore-reef is where tourists and visitors come to snorkel,” Bishop said. “The chemicals in sunscreen are damaging the DNA of corals. They are killing-off the coral larvae as soon as they hatch.”

A recent study by Dr. Craig Downs, executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory showed significant levels of the pollutants in Hanauma Bay.

“Oxybenzone is toxic to limu at 10-parts-per-trillion,” Downs said. “The lowest levels were 30-parts-per-trillion and the highest levels were almost 29,000-parts-per-trillion. Hanauma Bay had the highest levels of oxybenzone that we’ve seen anywhere in Hawaii.”

Downs said the damage could kill the reef completely.

“If it continues, all of the near shore stone structures or reef structures will begin to disappear within the next 10 to 15 years. That will cause massive erosion of the beach when you get a swell. The pollution will cause Hanauma Bay to lose its value as a major tourism attraction.”

Bishop said there is a way to prevent further damage to the bay.

“If we can stop oxybenzone and octinoxate use, at least here in Hanauma Bay, we have a chance of restoring it,” Bishop said.

Bishop said the pollution isn’t only bad for the environment. She said it’s also harmful to people.

“It’s bad, especially bad for young children.”

Downs agreed. “I was there two years ago and I wouldn’t let my daughter get in the water. The water was that contaminated with these chemicals,” explained Downs.

But not everyone is in favor of the ban.

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said she wants more tests to be done.

“We are conscious about the environment and the aina, but we also have to have a balance on that too,” Yamaki said. “People have to be able to use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer and that’s what we are looking at… Now they’re going to be very limited in what they can use.”

Wilkie McClaren from the Safe Sunscreen Coalition said there are easy and safe sunscreen options.

“There’s actually many, many options for sunscreen. We are even seeing them in Target, CVS, ABC, Walmart.”

She explained what to look for in your sunscreen to ensure it’s safe.

“You’re looking for a mineral sunscreen. FDA has chemical sunscreens as an active UVA filter and mineral sunscreens,” McClaren said. “Minerals would be zinc and titanium. And you’re looking for a non-nano zinc, a natural base so you’re not adding fragrances and other toxins. A lot of companies make that available.”

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