Hawaii has banned sunscreen chemicals, but no one knows who should apply it


Hawaii’s ban on the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate has encouraged the industry to change, replacing new ingredients and offering more mineral-based sunscreens.

But several months after the law came into effect, and as supporters of the ban on including other chemicals, stores that violate the law appear to have little to fear – at least not yet. The bill does not provide for any penalties for breaking the law, nor does it designate a body responsible for enforcing the ban.

The sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone, like this one, is illegal. Anthony Quintano / Civil Beat

“As we went through the process, state agencies made it clear that they did not want to be the beach police … and no funding is allocated to create new positions,” the senator said. State Mike Gabbard, who introduced Senate Bill 2571. in 2018.

If a law enforcement agency has received a report that a store was selling banned sunscreens, there is confusion over what to do next – one agency says it is still trying to determine what the law says. Responsible State Department Act.

“As far as we can tell in our system, we didn’t receive any complaints and I think if we did our officers wouldn’t even know what to do,” Lt. Darren Rose of the County Police Department said. from Kauai.

Rose said her department will sit down in the coming weeks to determine not only internal policy to tackle the violations, but also where to send the report.

“When we first studied the bill, if we received it correctly, we think it falls under water pollution, which would be the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources,” a he declared. “But when we research this again, it appears that the DLNR is not the administering agency, but the director of the Department of Health.”

In 2018, Governor David Ige enacted Senate Bill 2571, making Hawaii the first place in the world to ban “the sale, offering for sale, and distribution of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. After numerous studies have shown that these two chemicals cause genetic damage to marine life, including coral reefs.

“We are very concerned about anything that negatively affects the ocean and the evidence seems to be that certain types of petrochemical sunscreens are harmful to reefs and other marine life,” said Ted Bohlen of Hawaii Reef and Ocean Coalition, which advocated strongly for the 2018 legislation.

But supporters of the bill had to make concessions, including a provision that delayed the effective date until January 1.

“The sellers wanted more time before the ban went into effect and they basically negotiated for two and a half years very generous,” Bohlen said.

Then there was the lack of an enforcement mechanism, which Gabbard and Bohlen said was a direct response to requests from state agencies.

“We spoke to several agencies about this and they weren’t interested in applying it,” Bohlen said. “Opposition from state agencies was going to make it difficult to pass the bill… it’s one of the many compromises you make in legislation.”

Visitors to Hanauma Bay Park swim and enjoy the water.
According to Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, an average of 412 pounds of sunscreen was deposited on the Hanauma Bay reef daily. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Dan Dennison, a DLNR spokesperson, said by email that the DLNR had not been involved in any action to enforce banned sun protection, but the department should check with its division of aquatic resources and the conservation and resource application division for clarity.

The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

Gabbard said that while government enforcement was not spelled out, he was confident the law would bring about change because of grassroots passion.

“The last thing businesses want is a negative campaign against their store,” he said. “What if people see these chemicals in the store: take a photo, share it with your legislator or the media, or send a nice letter to the store owner asking them to remedy the violation. “

So far, it looks like bans, like those in Hawaii, Palau, the Florida Keys, and the Virgin Islands, are shaking things up. CVS phased out oxybenzone and octinoxate from its branded sunscreens in August 2020, and top brands like Coppertone, Banana Boat and Neutrogena also sell sprays without these two chemicals.

But environmentalists and health experts are worried about chemicals like avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate and octisalate that are used in place of oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Additional prohibitions

Senator Gabbard and Bohlen of the Hawaii Reef and Ocean Coalition worked together this year on legislation that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing avobenzone and octocrylene in 2023. The measure was passed by the Senate in March, but died in the House Finance Committee.

“We’ll come back to it for this next session to possibly tweak it and see if the will is there to get it passed,” Gabbard said.

Bohlen is optimistic about the bill because the same scientists who proved oxybenzone and octinoxate harm Hawaii’s ocean life have also published studies linking avobenzone and octocrylene to negative impacts.

This is one of the reasons Bohlen said it’s important to read the active ingredients before buying sunscreen. Many brands advertise their products as “reef safe” if they do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, but they can still contain harmful chemicals.

“I think they are breaking the truth in advertising laws and this is something we are looking into, filing a complaint with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs,” he said. “This is something that is not only harmful to our ocean, but also to humans.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration is currently updating its list of ingredients generally recognized as safe and effective for users. He studies the chemicals cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone and avobenzone. The FDA is studying their absorption into the body as well as the long-term effects of absorption.

“Without further testing, the FDA doesn’t know what levels of absorption can be considered safe,” the department said in a press release.

Right now, the only active ingredients in sunscreen that the FDA considers safe and effective are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two of the main chemicals in mineral-based sunscreen.

“It can be confusing with all chemicals,” Bohlen said. “So focus on mineral sunscreens that contain the appropriate level of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.”

Scientists generally consider mineral-based sunscreens to be less harmful than chemical sunscreens because they are less likely to rub off on a person’s skin in water and the particles are too large to be absorbed by the body. coral.

Bohlen said it was even easier to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and cover up with rashguards, hats and clothing in the sun.

Sunscreen is far from the only thing harming Hawaii’s reefs. Warmer ocean temperatures lead to coral bleaching, and fertilizer and sediment runoff introduce harmful substances into marine environments that adversely affect coral growth. But Gabbard said sunscreen bans are still significant, noting that 500 tons of sunscreen pollute Hawaii’s waters each year.

“The reality of the situation is that these chemicals still have an impact,” he said.


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