Hawaii is poised to become the first state in the nation to pass a law banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals believed to harm coral reefs, if legislators vote to pass a bill today.
Senate Bill 2571, introduced by state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), prohibits the sale and distribution of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. The bill passed out of conference committee at the state Legislature on Friday and is headed to floor votes by both the House and Senate today. Following House and Senate approval, it goes to Gov. David Ige for his signature.
Gabbard, chairman of the agriculture and environment committee, lauded the progress on Facebook as “a huge win for our state, for our near shore, our coral reefs, oceans, and marine life. I’m happy we’re taking this step to protect our environment and our people.”
Gabbard said scientific research has shown the two chemicals have significant, harmful impacts on Hawaii’s coral reefs and marine environment by increasing coral bleaching and reproductive diseases in ocean inhabitants such as sea urchins, eels and parrotfish.
The bill is supported by the Friends of Hanauma Bay, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, Surfrider Foundation and a number of nonprofit environmental groups, as well as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, which tested Hanauma Bay in November to measure the levels of oxybenzone in waters there, also testified in favor of the bill.
The bill is opposed by ABC Stores, the Hawaii Medical Association, Hawaii Food Industry Association, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, American Chemistry Council and Personal Care Products Council, as well as Bayer, which manufactures Coppertone sunscreens.
Bayer said there are limited, active ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration available within the U.S. with the same proven effectiveness as oxybenzone for sunscreens over SPF 50. The Hawaii Medical Association said there was a lack of peer-reviewed evidence suggesting sunscreen is a cause of coral bleaching, and overwhelming evidence that not wearing sunscreen increases cancer rates.
Two amendments were made to the final version of the bill. The date that the proposed law would go into effect was pushed back from July 1, 2019, to Jan. 1, 2021. In addition, sunscreens that fall under the category of cosmetics intended for use on the face are not included. The state law also would pre-empt county laws.