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Sunscreen legislation and government: Who will protect us?

Presented by:
Joe DiNardo

In 1921, Thomas Midgley, Jr. discovered that adding tetraethyl lead to gasoline prevented “engine knocking.” State regulators were highly skeptical of the safety of tetraethyl lead. In response, Midgley called a press conference to demonstrate its safety, by washing his hands in tetraethyl lead and deeply inhaling its fumes. After the press conference, he was hospitalized for lead poisoning and his manufacturing facility was shuttered. Overtime, industry lobbyists were able to lift the ban and suppress any legislation by states or cities prohibiting the use of tetraethyl lead – called preemption. It wasn’t until 1995, under the U.S. Clean Air Act, that tetraethyl lead was banned in gasoline.

In those 74 years, our elected politicians permitted an estimated 68 million children to be exposed to dangerous levels of lead, while some 5,000 U.S. adults would die annually of lead-induced heart disease. It wasn’t until scientists and doctors went directly to the people to tell these tales of destruction, that the President and Congress were forced to make changes.

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Oxybenzone is a drug regulated by the US Food & Drug Administration. It is allowed to be used in sunscreens, moisturizers, and other cosmetic products based on toxicity testing that was done prior to 1978. Since 1978, oxybenzone has been scientifically associated or demonstrated to cause a number of human diseases, including Hirschsprung’s Deformity in babies, as well as changes in birth weight, height and head circumference of babies whose mothers were exposed to Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone can be passed to an infant via breast milk. In children, Oxybenzone exposure is associated with lower testosterone levels in boys, delayed breast development in girls, and altered development and timing of puberty. According to the U.S. CDC, more than 97% of the U.S. population is contaminated with Oxybenzone. How bad is this chemical for the American people? How many children are afflicted with Oxybenzone-caused diseases? Do you believe the industry lobby groups that claim it is safe for you and your children? Why is there a label on sunscreens that you should consult a doctor for sunscreen use for infants under the age of 6 months?

There is strong scientific evidence of the threat of Oxybenzone’s impact to coral reefs and other marine habitats. It causes corals to bleach, it deforms and kills juvenile coral, and as an endocrine disruptor, causes juvenile corals to encase themselves in their own skeleton. Oxybenzone causes gender changes in fish; turning males and juveniles into sexualized females; even suppressing male mating behavior. Oxybenzone is prevalent all along Hawaii’s coast, wherever tourism and sewage enters the water. Oxybenzone is a threat to coral reef conservation, and a bigger threat to coral reef restoration – the reef can’t come back if these sunscreen chemicals are present. The very tourists who come to enjoy Hawaii’s waters are killing our waters by the use of oxybenzone sunscreen and cosmetic products.

This year, a number of very popular bills restricting the sale of Oxybenzone products were proposed in the Hawaii State Legislature and Maui County Council. According to the World Health Organization, the only effective means in stopping chemical pollution is to ban its use. Already, industry lobbyists from the Cosmetic Industry have descended upon Hawaii’s Legislature and Maui County Council to prevent restricting the sale of oxybenzone-containing products within their jurisdictions. In the House’s Energy & Environmental Protection committee, under Representative Chris Lee, industry was successful in inserting preemption to prevent counties from enacting their own bans – just like for tetraethyl lead. Currently, any legislation for restricting oxybenzone has been stalled in the House, under Representative Sylvia Luke. Maui County Council, Mike White, refuses to allow for a procedural hearing and vote. As concerned citizens that care about our ‘aina and keiki, we want to know why these politicians want us impotent in protecting ourselves, our children, our coral reefs? Will we allow the history of tetraethyl lead to repeat itself?

If you look at the testimony for the Oxybenzone Sale Restriction bill, you will see that the submitted testimonies for these bills are usually over 120 letters in support, contrasted with 4-8 letters against, and ALL of the letters of testimony against the bills come from industry lobby firms from Washington D.C. Unfortunately, we heard from a House representative that submitted written “testimony” doesn’t matter. He must be correct, because the only thing that matters is a visit from an industry lobbyist. If you want to see this legislation pass, take the lesson from the politician, and request a 5-minute face-to-face meeting with your elected politicians, and tell them our coral reefs matter, the health of our Keiki matter! Take back the power to protect Hawaii!

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