Passing a law to ban sunscreens harmful to reefs was half the battle, but the lawmaker behind the bill and a researcher examining sunscreen chemicals say extending the banning and protecting the marine conservation districts of Maui and other islands are on the horizon.
“It’s a huge problem for me personally” said State Senator Mike Gabbard of Oahu, who drafted legislation that came into effect Jan. 1 to ban the sale in the state of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. “I consider our coral reefs to be part of our community, so it’s important that we take care of our community. “
However, Gabbard said, “Our work is far from over.
Gabbard and Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, spoke about the effectiveness of current laws on sunscreen use as more people frequent Hawaii beaches, the next steps towards app and how the community can help protect the environment, during the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council “Know Your Ocean Speaker Series” Wednesday evening via Zoom.
“The truth is that our coral reefs are in danger and the question is, what are we going to do about it?” Gabbard said.
Without intervention, public education, workshops and government policies, the environment will continue to collapse, said Downs, whose research into sunscreen chemicals and their role in the decline of coral reefs has helped create a movement. towards the use of safer personal care products.
“Public education influences consumer choices and consumer choices and preferences can affect retail policy”, said Downs.
Rely on the honor system and marketing “Good will” slogans are not as effective as the implementation of laws and regulations that “Ensure that these changes are permanent and persistent”, he added.
Gabbard, Downs and others worked to introduce a bill in the 2022 legislative session that would ban a longer list of sunscreen chemicals harmful to reefs in four major marine life conservation districts, including Kealakekua Bay, Honolua Bay, Manele, Molokini and Ahihi. -Kinau Nature Reserve.
Gabbard said the effort is inspired by action that began in 2020 on the island of Hawaii, where the State Department of Lands and Natural Resources has issued new requirements that commercial vessels be allowed to operate in Kealakekua berry cannot use products containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate and nanoparticles.
“What we want to do is take this success at Kealakekua Bay, make it official and build on that momentum,” said Gabbard, who is also chair of the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee. “We are still working on the details. . . . With your help, input and support, this bill could end up on the governor’s desk and become law, just like our sun protection bill did in 2018. ”
The lawmaker also plans to reintroduce Senate Bill 132 in the next session which bans the sale, offer for sale or distribution in the state of any sunscreen containing chemicals harmful to reefs, l avobenzone or octocrylene, or both, without a prescription from a licensed health care agency. caregiver.
Since the current sunscreen law focuses on retailers, it does not prevent visitors or residents from bringing in or purchasing products from out of state, and there will be no so no “Beach police walking the beaches asking to see your tube of sunscreen and writing you a ticket if you are not in compliance,” Gabbard said.
Regulating and enforcing these laws requires more manpower, time and resources, Gabbard said, and not a single ministry “Wanted to take responsibility”.
“We are ready to solve this problem”, he said.
Maui County Council Member Tamara Paltin recently proposed a bill that would change the current county code to include the “Ban on use and distribution” sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
The proposal was referred to the Climate, Resilience and Environment Action Committee.
“I’m excited for this one,” Gabbard said during the webinar. “This is the perfect opportunity to get involved and have your voice heard. “
In the meantime, Gabbard has suggested that if shoppers spot non-compliant retailers, they take a photo, send it to law enforcement, and remind the retailer of the sunscreen law.
Although many stores and brands have phased out items containing oxybenzone and octinoxate and communities have made efforts to use safer personal care products, Downs said there has been an increase other contaminants, such as avobenzone, octisalate or octocrylene, which have their own environmental hazards.
“A lot of these chemicals really need to be managed and if that means legislative management, I think there’s a strong case for it,” said Downs.
For many researchers and scientists, sunscreen pollution is a symptom of an unsustainable tourism industry and coastal development.
“Hawaii is sort of a famous place for overtourism. It is widely used in the media ”, said Downs. “When you look at thousands and thousands of people on a beach and in the water, most people think that nothing is happening – that there is no degradation of the environment, no degradation. effect on the environment – these are just people having fun on the beach, but you have to take a closer look because often they are not.
Popular tourist spots around the world are “Degrading enormously” he added, and some of the culprits are sunscreens and cosmetics with harmful chemicals that get into the water, which are toxic to coral reefs, seagrass beds, fish populations, turtles. , limu and other species.
Downs said oxybenzone and other chemicals have recently been found to bind to microplastics found in sunscreens, creams, or other soaps like shampoo and conditioner, which form plastic microbeads in the skin. ocean that corals often like to eat as “bubble tea.”
This means that they consume greater amounts of pesticides, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, which makes them “much more sensitive to bleaching.”
Once the flourishing marine areas become “ecological deserts” by slow degradation, lack of reproduction among species and reduced resilience to climate change, he said.
“There has to be a balance between sustainable tourism and sustainable ecosystems, and so if you don’t have that balance, not only ecosystems are disappearing, but tourists are leaving.” he said. “What we are seeing in these coastal areas that are heavily visited by tourists is just a very high mortality rate (of marine life) and almost no recruitment of the next generation.”
While much of the focus is on environmental impacts, some sunscreens can be harmful to people as well, Downs said. When oxybenzone, for example, is absorbed through the skin, it reaches plasma concentrations of up to 209.6 nanograms per milliliter, which is 419 times more than is safe to prevent cancer. The United States Food and Drug Administration does not recommend more than 0.5 nanograms per milliliter.
Downs and the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council also said beachgoers can reduce the use of sunscreen or cosmetics that contain harmful chemicals by checking the ingredient list on products and protecting the skin with creams. reef-safe mineral containing zinc or titanium oxide. They can also block sunlight by wearing a hat, rashguard or t-shirt; stay in the shade; or bring an umbrella to the beach.
Increasing education through signage in high traffic areas or through social media are other ideas to encourage the public to make safe choices.
Gabbard said they will continue to design solutions that “Best tackle this critical problem we are facing today”.
* Dakota Grossman can be contacted at [email protected]