Mazie Hirono and Tulsi Gabbard call for study on impacts of sunscreen on health, environment

Honolulu Star Advertiser - May 11 , 2019
Nina Wu

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard want the public to understand the impact that sunscreen chemicals have on coral reefs around the world on a larger scale.

Earlier this week, Hirono, along with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), introduced the Oxybenzone and Octinoxate Impact Study Act of 2019, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive study on the impacts of the two chemicals on human health and the environment.

The EPA would be required to present its findings to Congress and the public within 18 months.

“In Hawaii, we understand that our way of life depends on a healthy ocean,” said Hirono in a news release. “We cannot afford to continue losing our coral reefs, which are suffering from a number of threats such as warmer temperatures, more acidic waters, and disease, and that is why Hawaii has become a leader in taking steps to mitigate the harmful impacts of sunscreen on our marine environment. This bill, which requires a study on the human and environmental impacts of common sunscreen ingredients, will help inform the national discussion on actions needed to protect our oceans.”

Gabbard also introduced the act earlier this week, along with the Reef Safe Act of 2019, which would require the Food and Drug Administration to develop standards for the ‘‘Reef Safe’’ designation in over-the-counter sunscreens.
Last year, Hawaii set a national precedent by enacting a new law banning the sale or distribution of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in the Aloha state despite opposition from retail and health industry representatives. The law, introduced by Gabbard’s father, state Sen. Mike Gabbard, goes into effect in 2021.

Hirono’s office said shortly after Hawaii enacted its law, the Republic of Palau and city of Key West, Florida followed suit by also banning sunscreens containing chemicals potentially harmful to marine life.
While more research is needed, Hirono’s office said studies have linked oxybenzone and octinoxate to coral bleaching, disease and DNA damage, as well as the decrease of fertility in fish, impaired algae growth and defects in young mussels and sea urchins. The chemicals have even been detected accumulating in the tissues of dolphins.

Just last month, water tests showed extremely high concentrations of oxybenzone at Kahaluu Bay, a popular snorkeling area near Kona. Hawaii County officials are closing the beach park for two full days May 20 and 21 to protect the reef during coral spawning events this year.

Gabbard cited studies that found about 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s reefs every year, and that just one day of sunscreen use results in oxybenzone in a person’s bloodstream. She also noted a recent U.S. Geological Survey report that found coral reefs in the nation provide more than $1.8 billion in flood protection benefits.

“The ingredients in many common sunscreens are chemicals that have been proven to kill coral reef, harm marine life, and raise serious concerns about the impact they may have on people who use them,” said Gabbard in a news release. “While proper skin protection is extremely important, we must make sure the ingredients used are safe for people and not jeopardizing the coral reef vital to local marine habitats and that help reduce coastal flood risk.”