State Sen. Will Espero announced Friday that he plans to introduce a bill in January to ban oxybenzone, a chemical commonly found in sunscreen that damages coral reefs.

“A ban is the right thing to do in order to protect our fragile marine eco-system,” he said in a statement. “Since our ocean environment is key to our tourism industry and our economic lifeline, banning a chemical substance that harms our coral and other marine animals should be a top priority next year in the state legislature.”

Sennator Will Espero. 13 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
State Sen. Will Espero, seen here during a legislative hearing earlier this year, plans to introduce a bill next session, which starts in January, to ban oxybenzone. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Scientists have for years called on government officials and others to ban oxybenzone after determining its harmful effects on coral reefs. The chemical affects corals’ ability to reproduce and makes them more susceptible to bleaching.

Expert panels took up the subject this week at the International Coral Reef Symposium at the Hawaii Convention Center. They called for an oxybenzone ban, but also urged people to buy personal care products that don’t contain the chemical and to simply wear less sunscreen in general.

MarineSafe has a campaign in the works to start a certification and labeling program so consumers can more easily know what products contain oxybenzone and other harmful chemicals what ones don’t.

Seawater testing discovered concentrations of oxybenzone — which is found in over 3,500 sunscreen products — were 12 times higher in Hawaii and the Caribbean. 

“At the very least, a serious discussion should be had on the value and need of oxybenzone in sunscreen and other products,” Espero said.

Under Espero’s proposal, the ban would go into effect beginning in 2018.

Read past Civil Beat coverage here.

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