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Hawaii Bans Sunscreens that Hurt Coral Reefs

Protecting the environment starts with undoing humankind’s mess.

In an effort to protect the state’s beautiful coral reefs, Hawaii just became the first state to ban certain sunscreens that are deemed harmful to the reefs.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a bill on Tuesday banning the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals which are believed to harm coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.

State lawmakers passed the legislation in early May. Senate Bill 2571 prohibits the distribution of nonprescribed sunscreens that contain the two chemicals.

“This bill is a small first step worldwide to really caring about our corals and our reefs in a way that no one else anywhere in the world has done,” Gov. Ige said during the bill signing.

The ban takes effect on January 1, 2021, and it will not impact medically prescribed sunscreens or makeup that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.

“We are blessed in Hawaii to be home of some of the most beautiful natural resources on the planet, but our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the Earth can have everlasting impacts,” Ige said.

Several Democrats in the state’s legislature offered strong support.

Rep. Chris Lee emphasized the importance of such environmental measures in a statement on Tuesday.

“In my lifetime, our planet has lost about half its coral reefs,” Rep. Lee said. “We’ve got to take action to make sure we can protect the other half as best we can because we know that time is against us.”

Opposition towards the ban mainly came from sunscreen manufacturers and medical groups. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are used in more than 3, 500 of the world’s most popular sunscreen products, including Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat. Many organizations made public statements opposing the bans.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) released a statement in response to the Hawaii sunscreen ban in May stating that it would severely compromise the safety of Hawaii residents and tourists by banning at least 70 percent of the sunscreens that are on the market today. However, mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block the sun’s rays are still allowed.

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