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Coalition petitions FDA for ban on three sunscreen chemicals harmful to Hawaii corals

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / MAY 2020 A coalition of 60 community leaders, conservation groups, and elected officials has petitioned the federal government to ban what it says are three harmful, coral-killing chemicals from over-the-counter sunscreens and other personal care products. Shown here, beachgoers enjoy Queens Beach in Waikiki.

    STAR-ADVERTISER / MAY 2020

    A coalition of 60 community leaders, conservation groups, and elected officials has petitioned the federal government to ban what it says are three harmful, coral-killing chemicals from over-the-counter sunscreens and other personal care products. Shown here, beachgoers enjoy Queens Beach in Waikiki.

A coalition of 60 community leaders, conservation groups, and elected officials has petitioned the federal government to ban what it says are three harmful, coral-killing chemicals from over-the-counter sunscreens and other personal care products.

The petition asks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene from these products, citing scientific studies on their dangers to Hawaii’s coral reefs and coastal ecosystems.

“The federal government can no longer shrug off these toxic chemicals that are deadly to coral, cause genetic damage to marine life and threaten overall reef health,” said Maxx Phillips, the center’s Hawaii director, in a news release. “People can protect their skin without harmful petrochemicals while the FDA protects public health and the environment.”

Hawaii in 2018 passed a law prohibiting the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate in the state, which went into effect this year.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit, sent a petition shortly afterward seeking a nationwide ban on oxybenzone and octinoxate which it said contributes to coral bleaching and death.

But federal officials, the center said, never responded.

Without enforcement and a nationwide ban, the coalition said, the ocean’s imperiled coral reefs and marine life remain at risk. The coalition also added octocrylene to the list of harmful chemicals.

The latest petition asks federal officials to remove affected products from the marketplace, and to reclassify the three chemicals from Category III, due to “insufficient data for use in sunscreens, to Category II, “not generally recognized as safe & effective” for human use.

Lab studies, the petitioners said, have shown a minuscule amount of oxybenzone in the ocean – 62 parts per trillion or the equivalent of three drops in an Olympic-sized swimming pool — can do damage to coral larvae.

Scientists have found high concentrations of oxybenzone in the waters of areas frequented by tourists, including Waikiki Beach, the Florida Keys, and U.S. Virgin Islands, the petitioners said. Scientists have also estimated up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion enter coral reefs around the world every year.

“With our landmark first-in-the-world legislation in 2018 banning the sale of sunscreens containing the harmful chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, we celebrated knowing at the time the law didn’t go far enough,” said state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who introduced the legislation, in the news release. “Thousands of sunscreen products containing the ‘Toxic 3 Os’ are wreaking havoc on human health and our oceans worldwide. Hopefully, the FDA will see the urgency in taking the critical next step to recall these toxic products from the marketplace.”

The petition was started by Island Green Living Association, a nonprofit in the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with the heads of three Hawaii-based organizations — Lisa Bishop of Friends of Hanauma Bay, Cynthia Punihaole of The Kohala Center, and Ted Bohlen of the Hawaii Reef and Ocean Coalition.

Harith Wickrema, president of Island Green Living Association, and Joe DiNardo, a retired scientist and industry toxicologist, are the designated signatories for the coalition.

Other petitioners include Gabbard and state Sen. Chris Lee; Hawaii Reps. Gene Ward and Nicole Lowen; Phillips of the Center for Biological Diversity; Pat B. Lindquist of the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation of Hawaii; U.S. Virgin Islands Sens. Janelle K. Sarauw, Marvin A. Blyden and Steven D. Payne Sr.; Kurt Lieber of the Ocean Defenders Alliance; Mark Okrusko of AirtimeWatertime, Inc.; Key West Mayor Teri Johnson; Mill McCleary of Reef Relief of Florida; Katie Day of the Surfrider Foundation; and nearly 50 additional environmental groups, community leaders, academics, businesses and members of the public.

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