March 15, 2017
State lawmakers have advanced a bill making it illegal to use or apply sunscreen containing any amount of oxybenzone while at the beach or in the ocean.
Senate Bill 1150, introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English (D, Molokai-Lanai-East Maui), was inspired by research conducted by Robert Richmond, a University of Hawaii professor and director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory.
His findings suggest oxybenzone is a threat to coral reefs, causing bleaching, DNA damage and deformities in coral larvae.
The research was presented to the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which met in Honolulu in September.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor earlier this month tentatively approved the bill banning oxybenzone at the beach, warning in a committee report that the threat of coral decline "is particularly acute in Hawaiian ocean waters, where coral bleaching is occurring at a rate never previously recorded."
Supporters of the bill include the Democratic Party, the Conservation Council for Hawaii, Virginia-based Haereticus Environmental Laboratory and 43 individuals.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources in written testimony questioned the feasibility of enforcing SB 1150, noting that "an officer would have to observe a person on the beach applying the product and then determine if the product contained oxybenzone."
Asked about how the law would be enforced, English said, "A lot of it is self-regulation. A lot of it will be word of mouth."
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association argued that oxybenzone is a proven ingredient in preventing skin cancers and that high sun protection factor (SPF) ratings will be more difficult to attain without it.
The association also cited findings from the Coral Reef Conservation Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, listing acidification, overfishing, coastal development and pollution as "primary stressors" of reef ecosystems.
The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Conference Room 325 at the state Capitol