Earlier this year, the Hawaii state Legislature took up a few bills that would have addressed sunscreen containing oxybenzone, a chemical that both helps humans prevent skin cancer but also may harm coral reefs. SB 1150 would have required “the University of Hawaii to conduct a study on the effects of sunscreen on Hawaii’s coral reefs and report to the Legislature.” HB 600 and HB 818 banned the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone. All three bills died in committee, despite some pretty damning testimony from the state Department of Health:
The Department of Health is concerned about the release of chemicals, including oxybenzone, from personal care products into the marine environment. Research by local and national coral experts have shown that levels of oxybenzone in the marine environment maybe high enough to pose deleterious effects on coral, and may exacerbate coral bleaching. However, oxybenzone plays an important role in reducing the risk of some forms of skin cancer, so balancing public health protection is a very important consideration. DOH believes more evaluation of the health and environmental impacts of restricting the use of oxybenzone are warranted. In addition, we are not aware of any impending federal or state regulations to remove this chemical from sunscreens. A key concern to be resolved is the availability of safe and effective alternatives, for example, sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles are alternatives to oxybenzone. However, titanium dioxide has been classified as a possible carcinogen when inhaled in high doses. Additionally, when zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles wash off skin, they enter the aquatic environment, with unknown effects on our tropical marine ecosystems.
The agenda for the upcoming Aug. 8, 2017 Maui County Council meeting indicates the council may soon start discussing oxybenzone legislation. Communication No. 17-316 at the end of the agenda, initiated by Councilmember Elle Cochran, relates “to Oxybenzone and its effects on the environment.”
According to Cochran’s office, there isn’t any proposed legislation yet, but staffers are working on something that would focus on the sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone. The actual communication attached to the agenda is a single-sentence letter from Cochran to Council Chair Mike White, dated July 5: “May I request the matter relating to Oxybenzone and its Effects on the Environment be placed on the next Council meeting agenda,” Cochran wrote.
Click here for the Maui County Council Aug. 8 meeting agenda.
Click here for our April 19, 2017 story on how to find reef-safe sunscreen.
Photo of bleached coral: Elapied/Wikimedia Commons