Maui News

Journal article documents sunscreen runoff from beach showers in Hawaiʻi as an environmental threat

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Maui, Hawaiʻi. File Photo Credit: Cammy Clark

In advance of Maui County’s ban on reef-damaging chemical sunscreens taking effect on Oct. 1 of this year, Councilmember Kelly Takaya King announced she and Councilmember Tamara Paltin have co-authored a scientific journal article documenting that sunscreen washed off at beach showers in Hawai‘i pollutes the environment at levels that pose a threat to shore and marine ecosystems.

Craig Downs, Ph.D., is the lead author of “Beach showers as sources of contamination for sunscreen pollution in marine protected areas and areas of intensive beach tourism in Hawaiʻi, U.S.A.,” published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials this month.

Downs advised the council on Ordinance 5306, enacted last year under the advocacy of King and Paltin to ban the sale and use of “non-mineral sunscreen” in Maui County without a prescription, unless the sunscreen is approved by the FDA.

“Beachgoers put on their sunscreen, swim at Hawaiʻi’s beaches and wash off the day at beach park showers,” King said, who holds the council seat for the South Maui residency area. “Unfortunately, none of these showers are plumbed with drains to the municipal sewer system, but instead drain right onto the beach and back into the waters.”

King noted that Maui County’s Department of Environmental Management said they would use a multifaceted approach to address sunscreen pollution, including educational efforts online, at beaches and with tourist-oriented recreational companies.

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According to King, the new ordinance is an important part of the council’s overall work on climate change and other environmental issues, a point buttressed by the article, she said.

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“While coastal environments are already fighting against plastic pollution, overtourism, overfishing and climate change, addressing sunscreen pollution is another big piece of the puzzle,” King said.

Other solutions discussed in the journal are:

  • Encouraging sun-protective clothing and visiting beaches during less sun-intense times of the day.
  • Plumbing beach park shower drains to municipal sewage systems.
  • Collecting shower grey water in holding containers, treating it to destroy or remove the chemicals and then safely discharging the water into the environment.

An abstract of the article is available online here.

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The ordinance is on the county’s website here.

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