US Virgin Islands approves bill to ban toxic sunscreen

Sunscreens with chemicals — oxybenzone or octinoxate — can cause death among developing corals and increase coral bleaching 

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 28 June 2019
Photo: Getty Images

Lawmakers in the US Virgin Islands have passed a bill banning the retail use of sunscreens and 10 personal-care products that contain toxic chemicals harmful for marine environment and ecosystems.

The bill prohibits the sale, import and distribution of sunscreen and 10 personal-care products containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, according to the 33rd Legislature of the Virgin Islands. The ban becomes effective by January 1, 2021.

Sunscreens are widely used to protect skin from harsh rays of sun. However, those with toxic ingredients — oxybenzone or octinoxate — cause death among developing corals and increase coral bleaching even at temperatures below 31 degrees Celsius, the lawmakers observed.

The presence of these chemicals in the waters can also cause genetic damage to corals, reduce their ability to cope with climate change as well as induce neurological behavioural changes in fish threatening their populations, they added.

Popular beaches and critical coral reef areas throughout the Virgin Islands, including Trunk Bay, Hawksnest Bay and Buck Island have all been detected with high levels of the toxic chemicals.  

According to a 2015 study, published in journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, chemicals in a single drop of sunscreen are enough to damage fragile coral reef systems.      

Besides, the lawmakers said the chemicals also appear to cause disruptions in corals’ endocrine system — which can induce feminisation in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases, according to various scientific studies.

While humans use sunscreens as a first line of defence against skin cancer, concerns have been raised for their effect on endocrine and reproductive systems.

The ban will help protect coral, marine life as well as human health, according to environmentalists. 

“The Caribbean has already lost more than 80 per cent of its coral due to a variety of issues. Studies have shown that these chemicals are at 40 plus times acceptable levels in some territory waters,” said Harith Wickrema, president of Island Green Living Association.

“In addition to environmental and human harm, tourism-based economies will experience financial devastation if coral and marine life die off. The ripple effect would be huge and we need to take action now,” Wickrema added.

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