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Sunscreen ban one step closer to becoming law

HONOLULU (KHON2) - Sunscreen is meant to protect us from the harmful rays of the sun, but studies show oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals in many sunscreens, are hurting our environment. 

Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay has been pushing to ban sunblock with those ingredients since 2015.

She said it's one simple way for us to protect areas like Hanauma Bay that are suffering from sunscreen pollution.

Bishop said, "When people put these chemicals on and they come into the ocean it washes off and it stays floating in the water and the corals the larvae are being killed by it."

Lawmakers are taking action.

Senate Bill 2571 would bill ban the sale of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate. Legislators will cast their final vote Tuesday.

Sen. Laura Thielen (D) said, "We have to be making in-roads to reduce the damage to all of these sources because our corals are under such stress. And if they go, our whole fishery, ecosystem and habitat go. So we need to protect them."

Thielen said studies have shown pollution from these chemicals isn't only coming from wearing the sunblock swimming in the ocean.

"More and more people realize, as you go home and shower the water is getting treated and put out into the ocean. So really it's damaging our corals no matter whether you're wearing it on land or at the beach."

The good news is that it's not too late. The damage can be reversed according to Bishop.

She said, "The half-life of oxybenzone is about two and a half years. So this is very do-able. If we start, the bill will help significantly cut back on the amount of pollution in areas."

Not everyone is in favor of the ban.

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, is against it.

"We have some concerns about it," Yamaki said. "Like everybody else we are concerned about the environment and the reefs and the fishes and the coral. Our concern though is there's not a lot of products out there that do not have oxybenzone in it. Those that do, they're very expensive and a lot of them don't work."

Yamaki said she fears it will lead to more cases of skin cancer because people may stop wearing sunblock.

Bishop disagrees. "There are about 3,400 sunscreens on the market today that do not contain those two chemicals. So it's not as though there will be no sunscreen available what so ever. If you need to, you can still get a prescription from your dermatologist, so it's not like these products are going to go away."

"I think it's that people get used to a particular brand. But I think as they find there are brands available and that provide equal sun protection, they'll get used to the new brands and will make a switch and our corals will be better off for it," Thielen said.

Rob Chilton, a visitor from Canada said he is all for it.

"I think if they've done studies and it shows there's a better chance of keeping this a beautiful place where all this public can come to enjoy," Chilton said as he gestured out to Hanauma Bay. " I think it's a small step or price for people to pay to take that extra step to ensure that this is protected."

If the bill passes Tuesday, the ban goes into effect in 2021. 

"We're trying to work with businesses to make sure they have time to go through their existing storage of all kinds of sunscreen," Thielen said. "I think what we're going to see is a fairly quick switch to sunscreens that don't contain these damaging ingredients and I expect a lot of people are going to be fully satisfied with them."

"You don't have to have a PhD in chemistry to understand this," Bishop said. "You can just make a simple choice in a product that you buy and you can be helping the environment."


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