Maui News

Coalition Petitions Federal Government to Ban “Coral-Killing Chemicals” in Sunscreens

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2019 Coral Bleaching. PC: DLNR.

A coalition of 60 community leaders, conservation organizations, businesses, elected officials and academics has petitioned the federal government to ban three chemicals from sunscreens and other personal care products. The petition cites scientific studies on the dangers to Hawai‘i’s coral reefs and coastal ecosystems posed by oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.

The petition, sent to the US Food and Drug Administration, follows a similar 2018 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking a ban on oxybenzone and octinoxate, which the organization says contributes to coral bleaching and death.

In 2018 Governor David Ige signed Senate Bill 2571 into law, making Hawai‘i the first place in the world to ban the sale and distribution of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Shortly thereafter Palau, the Florida Keys and the Virgin Islands passed similar chemical sunscreen bans. But without enforcement and a nationwide ban, the ocean’s imperiled coral reefs and marine life remain at risk, the groups say.


“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, Hawai‘i director and a staff attorney at the Center. “People can protect their skin without harmful petrochemicals while the FDA protects public health and the environment.”

The petition was started by Island Green Living Association in the US Virgin Islands and Lisa Bishop of Friends of Hanauma Bay, Cynthia Punihaole of The Kohala Center, and Ted Bohlen of the Hawai‘i Reef and Ocean Coalition. It asks federal officials to remove affected products from the marketplace and reclassify these chemicals as “Not Generally Recognized as Safe & Effective.”

“We hope the clear-cut science behind this petition, and strength of the coalition supporting it, convinces the FDA to take this critical step to protect public health, marine life and coral reefs,” Bishop said.


According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the three chemicals can foster viral infections in corals that hasten bleaching and death. Scientists estimate that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion enter coral reefs around the world every year. The impact of sunscreen chemicals is stronger on vulnerable coral’s larvae.

“Just 62 parts per trillion — the equivalent of three drops mixed into an Olympic-sized swimming pool — has been found to damage coral larvae,” according to the groups.

“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 Hawai‘i State Sen. Mike Gabbard. “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.”


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