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Rep. Gabbard Introduces Legislation to Protect Public Health, Coral Reef

May 9, 2019, 8:00 AM HST
* Updated May 9, 6:47 AM
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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawai‘i-02) introduced the Oxybenzone and Octinoxate Impact Study Act of 2019 as well as the Reef Safe Act of 2019 on Thursday, May 9, 2019.

The first of these bills would require an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on the impacts of these chemicals on public health and the environment while the second would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop standards for a ‘‘Reef Safe’’ designation for nonprescription sunscreens.

“The ingredients in many common sunscreens are chemicals that have been proven to kill coral reef, harm marine life, and raise serious concerns about the impact they may have on people who use them,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “While proper skin protection is extremely important, we must make sure the ingredients used are safe for people and not jeopardizing the coral reef vital to local marine habitats and that help reduce coastal flood risk.”

About 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s reefs every year, according to a 2015 paper published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing corals, increasing coral bleaching and inducing genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.

Last year, Hawai’i became the first state to enact legislation designed to protect coral reefs and marine ecosystems by banning sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate.

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An FDA study released on May 6, 2019, found that it takes just one day of sunscreen use for oxybenzone to enter a person’s bloodstream.

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A U.S. Geological Survey issued a report last month which studied the impact that coral reefs have on local communities. The study found that the annual value of flood risk reduction provided by U.S. coral reefs is more than 18,000 lives and over $1.8 billion, Hawai’i being one of the greatest beneficiaries of this protection.

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