Hawaii poised to be first in sunscreen legislation

Honolulu Star Advertiser - May 2, 2018
Nina Wu

Hawaii lawmakers Tuesday passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals deemed harmful to coral reefs.

If Gov. David Ige signs the bill into law, it will take effect Jan. 1, 2021, and make Hawaii the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

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. It sailed through the Senate, with no opposition, and received four “no” votes in the House on Tuesday.

Gabbard said it is a “first-in-the-world” law.

“So, Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens,” he said in an email. “When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow. This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health.”

The four opposing votes came from state Reps. Isaac Choy, Sharon Har, Sam Kong and Bob McDermott.

Gabbard, chairman of the Agriculture and Environment Committee, said scientific research has shown oxybenzone and octinoxate have significant, harmful impacts on Hawaii’s coral reefs, marine life and human health. Studies have shown they increase coral bleaching and reproductive diseases among sea urchins, eels and parrotfish.

The bill was 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.

“This is landmark legislation,” said Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay. “We are grateful to the legislators for supporting this from the beginning, grateful to all the scientists who shared their up-to-date evidence of the problems oxybenzone and octinoxate pose not only to the marine environment, but to human health. Hawaii will once again lead the way internationally.”

Bishop hopes the city will expand its education program at Hanauma Bay, which receives nearly 1 million visitors a year, to include more about harmful sunscreens. The gift shop there already has volunteered to stop selling sunscreens with the two chemicals, but she would like to see information about sunscreens included in the video visitors see before entering the preserve.

Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, which in November measured the levels of oxybenzone in Hanauma Bay, also testified in favor of the bill.

He said there is a “clear and present threat to the coral reefs that tourists love the most,” including Hanauma Bay, much of the west coast of Maui as well the Florida Keys.

The bill was opposed by ABC Stores, the Hawaii Medical Association, Hawaii Skin Cancer Coalition, Hawaii Food Industry Association, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and Personal Care Products Council, as well as Bayer, which manufactures Coppertone sunscreens.

The Hawaii Medical Association said there was a lack of peer-reviewed evidence showing the chemicals cause coral bleaching, and overwhelming evidence showing that not wearing sunscreen increases cancer rates. Bayer cited limited active ingredients available in the United States and approved by the Food and Drug Administration with the proven effectiveness of oxybenzone for sunscreens over SPF 50.

Supporters of the bill, however, said there are plenty of mineral-based alternative sunscreens available. The bill does not not prohibit visitors from bringing their own sunscreens with the two chemicals from out of state.

Rosalyn Ardoin, a registered nurse and founder of Little Hands Hawaii, a mineral-based sunscreen, testified for the bill. With the birth of her first daughter seven years ago, she started researching sunscreens and began making her own with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.

Her husband, Michael Koenigs, an avid surfer and diver, became interested as an advocate for the ocean.

“There’s definitely a lot of alternatives that don’t have oxybenzone,” she said.