Hawaii Bans Sunscreens Containing Coral Harming Chemicals
This week, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to ban the sale of sunscreens containing coral harming chemicals. Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed legislation, which state lawmakers passed in May, banning sunscreens with oxybenzone or octinoxate as ingredients. Gov. Ige said during the bill signing, “This bill is a small first step worldwide to really caring about our corals and our reefs in a way that no one else anywhere in the world has done.”
Oxybenzone and octinoxate are believed by scientists to be toxic to coral reefs and lethal for coral larvae. Unfortunately, the chemicals are used in the majority of sunscreen products. According to a 2015 paper, between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen are released onto coral reefs every year.
State Rep. Chris Lee, who represents Honolulu suburbs, said leaders need to act quickly to save what coral the world has left. He said, “In my lifetime, our planet has lost about half its coral reefs. We’ve got to take action to make sure we can protect the other half as best we can because we know that time is against us.”
According to the governor’s office, the new law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. Once the law goes into effect, sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate will only be available to those with a prescription from a physician. Others will have the choice of purchasing sunscreens without these chemicals or bringing their own sunscreen with them to Hawaii.
There are some critics of the new law. Some opponents say there aren’t enough independent scientific studies supporting that the chemicals harm coral reefs. Others are concerned that the new law will cause harm to retailers and manufacturers. The group Retail Merchants of Hawaii has expressed concerns the ban will discourage people from buying sunscreen at brick and mortar stores. It is unclear whether the governor’s office plans to address these concerns.