Hawaii has become the first state in America to ban the sale of coral reef damaging sunscreens. On July 3, the governor of Hawaii David Inge signed the bill, initially passed by lawmakers back in May. The new law will come into effect beginning in January 2021.
The bill will prevent any sunscreen which contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, chemicals which help to block out UV rays, from being sold in the state. These chemicals, according to research from nonprofit Haerecticus Environmental Laboratory, cause bleaching, deformities, and death to coral when they enter the water – be it via swimmers or through wastewater.
“Oxybenzone is really toxic to the juvenile form of corals and that’s consistent with the dogma of toxicology that juveniles are usually a thousand times sensitive to the toxic effects if a chemical than a parent,” explained Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist and the executive director of Haerecticus Environmental Laboratory, to CNN. “You have an El Nino climate change impact on a coral reef; let’s say it kills 40% of the coral, but if you have swimmers there with sunscreen pollution, you’re not going to have new generations coming in.”
He added, “you’re going to see the slow decline of the coral reefs in the area. And then you get an undersea, desolate landscape of just muck and mud and sand.”
However, there are many who are concerned about the new ban — some believe it will have a negative impact on public health and cause skin cancer rates to rise. But dermatologist Dr. Henry Lim understands why the bill has been passed. He believes that doctors should now increase their efforts in raising awareness of sun damage and cancer risks. By staying in the shade, covering up, wearing protective sunglasses, and using the appropriate type of sunscreen on exposed skin, Hawaiian citizens and tourists can still avoid sun damage, Lim maintains.
Hawaiian public officials are making positive strides toward bettering the environment and animal welfare. In February, the state proposed two separate bills to end cosmetic animal testing for good. Both were designed to prevent the sale and manufacture of animal-tested cosmetics and household products.