Ef­fort to ban some sun­screen chem­i­cals ad­vances

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By COLLEEN UECHI, Staff Writer

WAILUKU — Sun­screen con­tain­ing cer­tain chem­i­cals could be banned in Maui County af­ter a bill to elim­i­nate the po­ten­tially harm­ful prod­ucts was rec­om­mended for ap­proval by a Maui County Council com­mit­tee Mon­day.

The bill, which is headed for the full council, would pro­hibit the sale and use of sun­screen car­ry­ing oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate, in­gre­di­ents that have grown con­tro­ver­sial over the past few years.

“I think it’s re­ally about time,” council Vice Chair­man Bob Car­roll said. “It’s some­thing that we need to have done and the sooner we do have this in ef­fect, it gives our ocean and our fish and our limu a chance to re­cover and pros­per.”

Dur­ing the re­cent state leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Ewa Beach Sen. Will Espero in­tro­duced a mea­sure that would have banned prod­ucts with the same chem­i­cals. How­ever, Se­nate Bill 1150 stalled in con­fer­ence com­mit­tee.

If passed, Maui County’s ban would be the first in the coun­try, said Joe DiNardo, a re­tired sci­en­tist and tox­i­col­o­gist from Vir­ginia who gave a pre­sen­ta­tion to the In­fra­struc­ture and En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee on Mon­day.

Oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate can be found in a range of ma­te­ri­als, from plas­tic bot­tles to print­ing inks, and are pop­u­lar in the man­u­fac­ture of sun­screen.

“They are broad-spec­trum UV ab­sorbents,” said Craig Downs, a Ka­palua na­tive who’s now the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit Haereti­cus En­vi­ron­men­tal Lab­o­ra­tory in Vir­ginia. “That’s re­ally im­por­tant to help pre­vent sun­burns. So they do play a crit­i­cal role. . . . But they’re not the only two chem­i­cals that can be used in a prod­uct to pro­tect you from sun­burns.”

Sup­port­ers of a ban be­lieve it would help pro­tect coral reefs; op­po­nents con­tend that the in­gre­di­ents are safe for use, point­ing out that oxy­ben­zone has been ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. But that was back in 1978, when the bar for test­ing sun­screens was lower, DiNardo said.

Downs said that the two chem­i­cals can lower the re­siliency of coral reefs to bleach­ing. They can af­fect the de­vel­op­ment and en­docrine sys­tems of fish. And, the risk of spread­ing the chem­i­cals in the ocean is not only when sun­screen-wear­ing swim­mers are in the water, but also when they go home and use the shower or the toi­let.

Sam­ples of swim­ming and snor­kel­ing spots around Maui have found grow­ing lev­els of oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate in the water, Downs said. Oxy­ben­zone is toxic to corals at 62 to 280 parts per tril­lion. Three lo­ca­tions in South Maui had lev­els rang­ing from 340 to 1,096 ppt. Seven West Maui lo­ca­tions ranged from 125 to 4,252 ppt, which was at Black Rock in Kaana­pali.

Octi­nox­ate, mean­while, is toxic at 105 to 220 ppt. The same seven lo­ca­tions in West Maui ranged from 69 to 967, while the three South Maui spots ranged from 33 to 1,516 ppt.

While many fac­tors can cause coral bleach­ing, in­clud­ing warmer ocean tem­per­a­tures, Downs said sun­screens can also play a role. Corals ex­posed to oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate in both the ocean and the lab have shown signs of bleach­ing, even in tem­per­a­tures “nowhere near” the typ­i­cal bleach­ing thresh­old of 88 de­grees Fahren­heit, Downs said.

Sun­screen can also help pre­vent sun­burn and de­crease the risk of skin can­cer, but “the bot­tom line is sun­screens do not pre­vent skin can­cer,” said DiNardo, adding that sci­en­tists view pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and stay­ing out of the sun as the key.

“Sun­screens are im­por­tant,” DiNardo said. “We still need to use them. But they are not the end-all and be-all to any­thing as­so­ci­ated with skin can­cer.”

The eight tes­ti­fiers Mon­day mostly voiced sup­port for the ban. Res­i­dents whose fam­i­lies fish and farm talked about the no­tice­able de­cline of reefs and the con­cern that sun­screen could also find its way into fresh­wa­ter ponds and taro patches. Tes­ti­fiers be­lieved beach­go­ers would be open to mak­ing the change, as well as busi­nesses want­ing to earn a rep­u­ta­tion as en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly.

“Un­like banning smok­ing where peo­ple are ad­dicted to smok­ing . . . there’s no stress in­volved in switch­ing to a health­ier prod­uct,” said Su­san Varsames, cre­ator of Mama Kuleana sun­screen, which uses zinc ox­ide. “There’s no fi­nan­cial bur­den . . . . This is a re­ally easy learn­ing curve for peo­ple be­cause it’s a win-win.”

Rob Par­sons, county en­vi­ron­men­tal co­or­di­na­tor, said that Mayor Alan Arakawa hasn’t ex­pressed a po­si­tion for or against, but said that the mayor is con­cerned about the chal­lenge of en­forc­ing such a ban. How­ever, Par­sons agreed with other tes­ti­fiers who said in­stalling a ban, like putting up a speed limit sign, could help de­ter the use of harm­ful sun­screens.

Council mem­bers were sup­port­ive of the bill, though they were con­cerned about the mea­sure be­ing legally sound. Deputy Cor­po­ra­tion Coun­sel Richelle Thomp­son said that the bill could open the door to chal­lenges based on the fed­eral Com­merce Clause, which pro­tects in­ter­state com­merce. She also thought the county should first con­sult with the state Depart­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources, which has ju­ris­dic­tion over nearshore waters. Un­like the county’s re­cent ban on poly­styrene, a ban on cer­tain sun­screens could cross county and state lines.

Council Mem­ber Yuki Lei Sugimura said that the county al­ready has a hard time en­forc­ing rules and thought the council should hear from state and county de­part­ments be­fore pass­ing a new law. How­ever, Council Mem­ber and Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Elle Cochran pushed for a vote, say­ing the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence was solid and the bill was “de­fen­si­ble.”

Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

Re­tired sci­en­tist and tox­i­col­o­gist Joe DiNardo dis­cusses mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing sun­screen use and why he thinks a ban on cer­tain prod­ucts would be ef­fec­tive.


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