Coalition strikes FDA to ban three sunscreen chemical compounds which can be dangerous to Hawaiian corals

A coalition of 60 community leaders, conservation groups and elected officials has asked the federal government to ban three harmful, coral-killing chemicals from over-the-counter sunscreens and other personal care products.

The petition calls on the US Food and Drug Administration to ban oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene from these products, citing scientific studies of their dangers to Hawaii’s coral reefs and coastal ecosystems.

“The federal government can no longer ignore these toxic chemicals that are deadly to corals, genetically damaging marine life and threatening the general health of reefs,” said Maxx Phillips, director of the center in Hawaii, in a press release. “People can protect their skin without harmful petrochemicals, while the FDA protects public health and the environment.”

Hawaii passed a law in 2018 banning the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate in the state, which went into effect this year.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit, sent a petition shortly thereafter calling for a nationwide ban on oxybenzone and octinoxate, which allegedly contribute to coral bleaching and death.

But federal officials, the center said, never responded.

Without enforcement and a nationwide ban, the coalition said, the endangered coral reefs and marine life of the ocean will remain at risk. The coalition also added octocrylene to its list of harmful chemicals.

The latest petition calls on federal officials to remove affected products from the market and to reclassify the three chemicals from Category III to Category II, “not generally recognized as safe and effective” for human use due to “insufficient data for use in sunscreens”.

Laboratory studies, the petitioners say, have shown that a tiny amount of oxybenzone in the ocean – 62 parts per trillion, or the equivalent of three drops in an Olympic swimming pool – can harm coral larvae.

Scientists have found high levels of oxybenzone in the waters of areas frequented by tourists, including Waikiki Beach, the Florida Keys and the US Virgin Islands, the petitioners said. Scientists have also estimated that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen is found in coral reefs around the world each year.

“With our groundbreaking first ever legislation in 2018 banning the sale of sunscreens containing the harmful chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, we celebrated that the law didn’t go far enough back then,” said Senator Mike Gabbard, who introduced the law in the press release. “Thousands of sun protection products containing the ‘Toxic 3 Os’ are wreaking havoc on human health and our oceans around the world. Hopefully the FDA will recognize the urgency to take the critical next step to recall these toxic products from the market. “

The petition was started by the Island Green Living Association, a nonprofit in the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with the heads of three Hawaii-based organizations – Lisa Bishop of Friends of Hanauma Bay, Cynthia Punihaole of the Kohala Center, and Ted Bohlen of Hawaii Reef and Ocean Coalition.

Harith Wickrema, President of the Island Green Living Association, and Joe DiNardo, a retired scientist and industrial toxicologist, are the coalition’s nominees to sign.

Other petitioners are Gabbard and Senator Chris Lee; Hawaii Reps. Gene Ward and Nicole Lowen; Phillips from the Center for Biodiversity; Pat B. Lindquist of the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation of Hawaii; US Virgin Islands Sens. Janelle K. Sarauw, Marvin A. Blyden, and Steven D. Payne Sr .; Kurt Lieber of the Ocean Defenders Alliance; Mark Okrusko of AirtimeWatertime, Inc .; Key West Mayor Teri Johnson; McCleary Mill of Florida Reef Relief; Katie Day of the Surfrider Foundation; and nearly 50 other environmental groups, community leaders, academics, corporations, and the public.

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