WAILUKU — A Maui County Council committee has recommended that sunscreens containing certain chemicals be banned in the county.
The committee on Monday introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale and use of sunscreen carrying oxybenzone and octinoxate, ingredients that have grown controversial over the past few years, the Maui News reported .
“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.”
Joe DiNardo, a retired scientist and toxicologist, says if passed, Maui County’s ban would be the first in the country.
Supporters of a ban believe it would help protect coral reefs, while opponents contend that the ingredients are safe for use, pointing out that oxybenzone has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
DiNardo said the administration’s approval came back in 1978, though, when the bar for testing sunscreens was lower.
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.”
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.