Ban eyed on reef-harming sunscreens

Posted on Mar 12 2019

Fresh in the wake of a similar measure in Hawaii, a House legislation is seeking to ban the distribution and sale in the CNMI of certain sunscreen products that contain chemicals that are harmful to coral reefs.

Rep. Ivan A. Blanco’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 21-28 states that two chemicals contained in many sunscreens—oxybenzone and octinoxate—”have significant harmful impacts on marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs that protect the island’s shoreline.”

Both chemicals also allegedly kills developing corals, increase coral bleaching—making them vulnerable to stress even at temperatures below 87.8°F—and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.

“These chemicals (oxybenzone and octinoxate) have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals. Furthermore, oxybenzone and octinoxate appear to increase the probability of endocrine disruption,” adds H.B. 21-28.

Scientific studies also showed that both chemicals can “induce feminization in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in marine invertebrate (e.g. sea urchins) and vertebrate species (e.g. wrasses, eels, and parrotfish), and mammals.

“The chemicals also induce deformities in the embryonic development of fish, sea urchins, coral, and shrimp, and induce neurological behavioral changes in fish that threaten the continuity of fish populations,” said in H.B. 21-28.

“In addition, species that are listed on the Federal Endangered Species Act and inhabit the CNMI’s waters—including sea turtle species, marine mammals, and migratory birds—may be exposed to oxybenzone and octinoxate contamination.”

Hawaii became the first U.S. jurisdiction that outlawed the sale of sunscreens that contain both chemicals while Key West City in Florida voted to ban products with oxybenzone and octinoxate. Florida State Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando), however, wanted to expand the sunscreen ban to the entire state. Palau has also banned sunscreens with both chemicals.

Vice speaker Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) along with Reps. Roman C. Benavente (R-Saipan), Luis John DLG Castro (R-Saipan), Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan), Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan) are co-sponsors of H.B. 21-28.

A study by the Environmental Working Group in 2012 showed that both chemicals can be found in more than 70 percent of sunscreens that are being sold in the market while only a quarter are without the potentially harmful ingredients.

EWG, a non-profit organization that advocates for corporate accountability on toxic chemicals used, and other toxicology experts also link oxybenzone to hormone disruption and potential cell damage that may cause skin cancer.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.
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