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Legislative proposal advances to ban Hawaii sale of more reef-unfriendly chemicals in sunscreen

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                                Hanauma Bay


    Hanauma Bay

Sunscreens containing avobenzone or octocrylene, synthetic ingredients that, studies show, pose threats to coral reefs, would be banned from sale in Hawaii starting Jan. 1, 2023 under a bill that is advancing through the state Legislature.

On Thursday, after being passed by the state Senate on Tuesday, SB 132 passed its first reading before the state House of Representatives and was referred to the House committees on Energy & Environmental Protection, Water & Land, Consumer Protection & Commerce and Finance.

Sunscreens containing two other synthetic ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate, are now banned from sale in Hawaii under a 2018 law that took effect Jan. 1.

“This is great news for our imperiled coral reefs and marine life,” said Maxx Phillips, the Hawai‘i director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

A growing body of scientific research finds that the presence in seawater of sunscreens containing synthetic chemicals promotes viral infections in coral, contributing to its bleaching through weakening its resilience against high ocean temperatures due to climate change, and reproductive harm to fish and other aquatic life forms — and, possibly, to humans—according to the center, which has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a national ban on coral-harming chemicals in sunscreens.

Research indicates that octocrylene and avobenzone, members of a class of chemicals known as UV filters, may be endocrine disruptors that collect in the environment and animal tissues and can possibly disrupt human hormones as well as those of fish.

“Residues of UV filters have been detected in multiple environmental matrices including wastewater treatment plants, surface water, sewage sludge, river sediments, fish, human milk and placenta,” write the authors of “Recent Advances on Endocrine Disrupting Effects of UV Filters,” a 2016 article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Octocrylene and benzophenone are two UV filters the article says can accumulate in organisms;

“Eminent scientists from the U.S., Canada, France, Israel, Iran and China joined over 100 Hawai‘i residents, organizations and businesses supporting the bill,” said Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay.

Non-nanoized titanium dioxide and non-nanoized zinc oxide are sunscreen ingredients recommended as reef safe by environmental scientists and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; nano refers to very tiny particles measuring less than one nanometer in diameter, which are readily absorbed by skin instead of resting on the skin’s surface to block UV rays.

“People can protect their skin without harmful petrochemicals while Hawaii protects public and environmental health” if SB 132 becomes law, adding two more chemicals to the roster of the state’s banned sunscreen ingredients, Phillips said.

SB 132’s text and testimony on the bill can be viewed at

A related state House bill, HB 102, that would also ban sunscreens containing avobenzone or octocrylene, made it through several committees before being deferred.

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