The Maui County Council on Friday passed a bill that would prohibit the sale, distribution or use of non-mineral sunscreens in an effort to protect the environment.
Bill 135, introduced by Maui County Councilmember Kelly King, would prohibit non-mineral sunscreens that contain UV filters such as octinoxate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. Mineral sunscreens with zinc and titanium dioxide would still be allowed.
The bill now awaits Maui Mayor Michael Victorino’s signature. If signed into law, it would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2022.
“Non-mineral sunscreens are an aggressive pollutant,” said King in a news release. “Our coral reefs are our first defense against erosion from sea level rise and, in addition to the threats of climate change and ocean warming, runoff from storms and development, and seepage from wastewater injection wells, chemical sunscreens cause extensive harm to our reef systems and marine life. Bill 135 is one important step toward protecting the health and resilience of our reef and marine life by removing a significant ecological stressor.”
Under the bill, the sale, distribution, or use of prohibited non-mineral sunscreens would be considered a violation of the Maui County Code, subject to penalties and enforcement. Fines would be deposited into the County Environmental Protection and Sustainability Fund.
Under current state law, which went into effect Jan. 1, the sales and distribution of over-the-counter sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate are prohibited, but not their use. Visitors that bring sunscreens with those UV filters may still use them in the state.
Besides oxybenzone and octinoxate, environmentalists are concerned about other UV filters still under evaluation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including avobenzone and octocrylene, which they say are harmful to both human health and the environment.
But groups opposed to the bill said further study and review were needed on these chemical sunscreen filters before removing them from the market.
The bill was opposed by the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, the Hawaii Dermatological Society and Hawaii Skin Cancer Coalition, among others.
“We oppose this legislation and urge you to strongly consider the broad implications of banning the use of sunscreens containing certain ingredients, bearing in mind the grave dangers of sun exposure without adequate protection that the residents and visitors of Maui County face,” said the Hawaii Dermatological Society in written testimony.
“Chemical (organic) sunscreen filters are an important component of many sunscreen products,” the Society continued. “They provide ample broad-spectrum protection against UV radiation. This legislation would remove access to chemical filters, leaving only mineral filters, which are less effective filters. Mineral sunscreen products often leave a whitish residue on the skin. Many, especially individuals with darker skin tones, find these to be unacceptable for use.”
Environmental groups supported the bill, along with seventh graders from Kihei Charter School, and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Peter Landon, who manages the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve in South Maui, supported the ban on non-mineral sunscreens.
“You can see with your own eyes the sheen of chemicals shining in the top of the water column,” he said in a statement. “Imagine the impact this stuff has on the coral reef ecosystem. I and many others applaud the County Council for this landmark measure.”
On Friday, DLNR also unveiled the first, public, “reef friendly,” non-chemical sunscreen dispenser in a state park in an effort to protect sensitive coral reef systems.
The dispenser is available at Waialea Bay at Hapuna State Recreation Area on Hawaii island as part of a joint effort with the Coral Reef Alliance and Raw Elements.
“Our reefs are invaluable,” said King in the news release. “Coral reefs are essential for the livelihood of many residents of Maui County, the perpetuation of cultural practices, and the protection of coastal areas. Our marine environment provides opportunities for recreation, inspiration, and scenic beauty for residents and visitors. We must do what is necessary to preserve and protect it.”