Hawaii is poised become the first state to ban certain sunscreens – not because they are bad for people necessarily, but because they’ve been implicated in the decline of coral reefs. The ban specifically targets sunscreens that contain two chemicals – oxybenzone and octinoxate. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.
When people swim in the ocean, the sunscreen washes off and creates a toxic soup for corals, according to Craig Downs, the executive director of the non-profit research and advocacy group Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. The two chemicals are also leaking into the ocean with sewage, he said.
“We find that the levels we see in the environment are toxic in the laboratory,” Downs told Living Lab Radio, citing a study from his lab.
The chemicals cause corals to bleach at a lower temperature, damage corals’ DNA, and deform the juvenile stages of the corals. Luckily, it is easy to find sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.
“They’re in Costco, they’re in Wal-Mart, they’re in CVS drug stores,” Downs said.