Published: Thu, May 03, 2018
Science | By Joan Schultz

Healthy Living: Sunscreen ban in Hawaii to protect coral reefs

Healthy Living: Sunscreen ban in Hawaii to protect coral reefs

The proposed law will now go to the desk of Hawaii's governor, who can sign the bill into law and enact the ban starting in 2021.

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.

The bill prohibits the sale of sunscreen containing two chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, that its authors say "have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii's marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs". If signed, the ban would start in 2021.

Years of studies have shown that many chemicals in some of the most common sunscreens have chemicals that damage - and sometimes kill - fragile coral reef systems. Prescription sunscreens with those chemicals are not affected by the ban.

"This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover", said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs.

He found as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs annually. Popular tourist beaches in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands were among the highest concentrations of these products.

"Amazingly, this is a first-in-the-world law", state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who introduced the bill, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Many sunscreen makers could soon be forced to change their formulas or be banned from selling the lotions in Hawaii.

"When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the flawless place to set the gold standard for the world to follow", added Gabbard, who posted a video on Facebook last weekend of himself singing a song in support of the bill.

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.

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