Coral reefs are important for many different reasons, they contain the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms and provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms.
The National Park Service says that 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter reef areas each year, and studies have found that the chemicals they contain can damage coral reefs, contributing to “bleaching” and death. The chemicals get into seawater through wastewater and from swimmers wearing chemical sunscreen.
Thousands of tons of sunscreen wash off into coral reef areas each year, according to the National Park Service. The agency recommends sunscreens containing mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which have not been found to be harmful to coral.
On Wednesday March 13, 2019, the Miami Beach City Commission sent a proposal that would prohibit the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate to the city’s sustainability committee for further study. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are commonly found in sunscreens and have been linked to coral bleaching and other damage to coral reefs.
A motion to approve the ban at Wednesday’s meeting failed, with several commissioners saying they wanted to study the coral reef research and potential public health impacts in greater depth before voting on the proposal.
Surfside Florida Mayor Daniel Dietch has also called for the town to pass its own reef-friendly sunscreen measure. He began the process of passing a law similar to the one under consideration in Miami Beach.
The movement of sunscreen bans began last year in Hawaii where lawmakers barred the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate and Key West passed a similar law last month. Both bans go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The Florida Legislature is also considering a statewide ban on the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens containing these chemicals.
Miami Beach’s proposed law under which violations would be punishable by fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 wouldn’t take full effect until Jan. 1, 2021. The city would start educating stores that sell sunscreen about the new rules in July and help them identify alternative products.
On February 21, 2019, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a proposed rule that would update regulatory requirements for most sunscreen products in the United States.
Two ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both mineral sunscreens that do not penetrate and are not absorbed through the skin and are generally recognized as safe and effective for use in sunscreens. Thus, the safety evaluation does not need to consider more than direct effects on the skin. FDA has sufficient evidence that they are GRASE Category I.
According to the FDA, the Category III sunscreen ingredients lack enough data to support whether they are generally recognized as safe and effective and states that existing evidence suggests that these active ingredients are, or may be, absorbed through the skin, and data about the consequences of this absorption are missing. The 12 Category III sunscreen ingredients are cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.
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