Senate Panel Votes to Ban Sunscreens with Toxic Chemicals

Cosmetic chemist Autumn Blum testifies Monday before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Consumers and Affairs, describing the toxic chemicals found in most sunscreens. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)
Cosmetic chemist Autumn Blum testifies Monday before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Consumers and Affairs, describing the toxic chemicals found in most sunscreens. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)

A Senate committee voted Monday to forward a bill banning two chemicals found in many sunscreens after a panel of witnesses, including chemists and divers, testified that the compounds contribute to the deterioration of coral reefs and have been linked to harmful side effects in humans.

The Senate Committee on Government Operations, Consumers and Affairs voted unanimously to pass bill 33-0043 to the Rules and Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to send it on to the full Senate for a vote. If approved and signed into law, it would ban the sale of products containing oxybenzone or octinoxate in the territory.

“If the coral reef isn’t the primary focus, then human health absolutely should be,” said cosmetic chemist Autumn Blum. “The FDA just recently announced that only titanium and zinc oxide are generally recognized as safe. These other ingredients are known endocrine disruptors, which means they affect our hormonal development. Unborn children are being affected by this.”

Blum was an impromptu speaker, called up to deliver testimony due to her extensive knowledge on the topic.

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Harith Wickrema, president of the Island Green Living Association, said there are 260 sunscreens on the market that do not contain the two compounds, but the ingredients are in more than two-thirds of all sunscreens on the market today.

Wickrema said exposure to the two chemicals have been proven to trigger puberty early in females and lower sperm counts in males.

The conservation of the V.I. coral reefs were presented just as ardently by the testifiers and Sen. Janelle Sarauw, who was one of the two senators to propose the bill.

Sarauw said 80 percent of V.I. reefs have been lost and “we cannot afford to ignore our coral reefs.”

The testifiers each noted the chemicals are only one stressor that have caused the depletion of much of the reef, but said toxic sunscreen burn was something the Legislature could do something about.

According to Blum the two chemicals were biodegradable to a certain degree, and the life span in which the chemicals could cause harm to coral species was 72 days.

Kristina Edwards, education and outreach coordinator for the Coastal Management Division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said the health of the V.I. reefs continue to decline since the 2005 mass bleaching event, which caused a 50 percent decline in coral cover in waters less than 85 feet in depth.

“USVI reefs are suffering the effects of overexploitation of reef resources and terrestrial sediment runoff is increasing mortality of threatened and ecologically crucial corals,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the two chemicals were first recognized to induce coral bleaching in 2008.

The panel of testifiers hesitated to give a timeframe for the health of the V.I. reef or predict what would happen if the V.I. were to band the purchase of sunscreens that contained the two toxic chemicals. Edwards said only that some coral species could recover at a quicker rate while other corals species would require hundreds of years to return to optimal health.

“Sunscreen pollution is a symptom of unsustainable tourism, this is one factor along with Styrofoam, plastic bags and plastic straws. This is a very easy measure. You can take it out of the environment and give them (coral) a chance to fight and heal themselves,” Blum said.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Great news for our oceans and reefs. It is banned in Hawaii, Australia, Key West, Bonaire, and some places in Mexico. Now DPNR and Caribbean Management need to work On septic runoffs from nearby hotels, businesses and residencies. Treatment plants need to be installed in coastal areas and those who don’t have one should be given 5 years to install one. Septic runoff is not good for us , oceans, reefs, fish,birds and our underground water systems. Chemicals and harmful bacteria is leaking into our soil and into our oceans. Sunscreen is important but septic runoffs are worse. Work on septic runoffs also and that should help with some of the ecosystem and reef deterioration. Just a suggestion.

  2. It is easier to deceive people than it is to convince them they are being deceived. To ban some chemicals (oxybenzone) and create a market for other more harmful chemicals (zinc Oxide and titanium Oxide) only shows you how easy it has become to manipulate society for the sake of profits. Big sugar paid scientists to do same thing in the 1970,80 and 90s and increase their profits by 30 percent, that’s 100’s of millions of dollars. Key west resident were so quick to jump on the virtuous bandwagon and follow Hawaii they did not actually look at the realities or relevant science of their actions. They simple gave a blank check to those who said they were eco-conscious . Ironic that local scientists chose to hide the fact of Florida’s new multi-million-dollar funding bill. Even more disturbing is that local scientists choose to hide the fact that much of the coral destruction to Key west reefs is caused by a known bacterial coral outbreak discovered in 2014 and unrelated to external factors. An article which was was recently published in the Florida keys news. It is no wonder politicians and developers can easily deny or refute scientific studies about the dangers of global warming or climate change when the scientists in our own back yard choose to not be honest with us. Academic and funding politics continue to create an atmosphere of false truths, of course scientist need to eat right, 7-million-dollar research facilities don’t just build themselves and, the daily 35,000 dollars a day cost to run research ships is not pocket change. So where is the proof? Article after article proponent scientist continue to state “Zinc Oxide is not harmful to coral”. So why is it that the international Safety data sheet for zinc oxide and titanium oxide both state these chemicals are toxic to all aquatic life. In addition, haereticus-lab Hawaii press releases state that zinc oxide and titanium oxide are not safe alternatives and are still being studied to determine their impact and damage to coral reefs. Key west good intentions were simply redirected by those who gained to profit. So who profits from key west legal embargo. First those companies who use FDA loopholes to market their products as coal safe even though their main ingredient is Zinc Oxide. Second the individuals who will now receive funds to address coral reef damage but are aware that shallow reef coral bleaching’s main culprit is caused by increased ocean temperature. It should be noted that the shallow water coral reef only makes up 2 percent of all coral. Finally politicians who now have something to hang their coats on and say I did something good take the blanket statements of individuals like Autumn Blum who are only positioning their company to make millions. Just a little fact checking will show the ugly truth behind the trend of virtuous marketing. The real question is what did this do for the shallow water coral? I can tell you but you but you’re not going to like it. So I will just show you the truth. Below is the SDS sheet for Zinc Oxide Please read and educate your passion.

    SDS for Zinc Oxide SECTION 1 – IDENTIFICATION OF THE SUBSTANCE AND OF THE COMPANY
    1.1 Product Identifiers
    Product Name: Chemical name: CAS Number: Chemical formula: EINECS Number: EC Number
    Index Number Reach Number
    Zinc Oxide
    Zinc Oxide

    GHS 09
    P273 P391 P501
    Avoid release to the aquatic environment Collect spillage
    Dispose of contents/containers as hazardous waste in accordance with applicable legislation (state the applicable legislation)
    2.3 Other Hazards
    No PBT vPvP according to regulation EC 1907/2006
    SDS Zinc oxide version 04-04/2013
    Page 2 of 12

    S
    Description of First Aid Measures
    General Advice

    Most important symptoms and effects, both acute and delayed
    Zinc oxide dust and fumes can irritate respiratory tracts. Prolonged skin contact can cause severe dermatitis called oxide pox. Dust and fume can cause zinc fever and chills. High levels of dust can cause a metallic taste, fatigue weakness coughing, nausea and muscular pain. Severe overexposure may result in bronchitis and pneumonia with bluish tint on skin, liver enzyme abnormalities and diaree.

    Do not allow to enter sewage system, drains ans waterways. Do not allow to enter surface water drains and ground water. Prevent soil contact.
    Methods and material for containment and cleaning up
    Sweep up and shovel into suitable containers for disposal. Re-use or recycle waste Prevent dust generation.
    Collect spilled material in predominated containers.
    All contaminated materials from the cleaning-up operation must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

    Skin inflammation is characterized by itching, scaling, reddening and occasionally blistering.
    Serious eye damage/irritation
    Slightly irritating (rabbit). Slight erythema of the conjunctiva for 2 days, no effect on iris and cornea.
    Respiratory and Skin Sensitization
    Not a skin sensitizer
    Carcinogenicity

    SECTION 12 – ECOLOGICAL INFORMATION

    Toxicity
    Acute toxicity for fish (Oncorhynchus mykiss): Acute toxicity for ctustacea (Daphnia magna): Acute toxicity for algae (Selenastrum capriocornutum):
    Persistence and biodegradability
    Not relevant (insoluble inorganic compound)
    Bioaccumulative potential
    LC(50) (96h) 0.14-0.26 mg Zn2+/L EC(50) (48h) 0.04 – 0.86 mg Zn2+/L
    EC(50) (72h) 0.136 – 0.150 mg Zn2+
    P.O.Box 92 Maalot, 24952 Israel
    Tel. 972 4 9978 220, Fax. 972 4 9976 062 http://www.numinor.com
    flu-like
    condition involving headache, chills, fever, sweats, nausea, vomiting, cough, muscle aches and pains, and difficulty breathing, ;pulmonary edema. May also affect the liver
    Eyes
    May cause mechanical eye irritation and conjunctivitis, redness or pain
    Ingestion
    May cause digestive tract irritation although Zinc oxide has a low . toxicity by oral exposure route. Prolonged or repeated ingestion of zinc oxide may affect blood, metabolism, and the thyroid.
    No – Zinc is a natural, essential element, which is needed for the optimal growth and development of all living organisms.
    Mobility in soil
    Not Applicable – Zinc oxide is insoluble in water
    Results of PBT and vPvB assessment
    Zinc Oxides are not PBT or vPvB
    Other adverse effects
    Very toxic to aquatic life
    SDS Zinc oxide version 04-04/2013

    When marketing a false truth the power of willful ignorance cannot be overstated

  3. Making a killing on profits from marketing on saving the planet.

    Virtues marketing is part of a new wave of marketing that preys upon individuals desire to do good. It’s designed around hot topic issues such as coral reef destruction, ocean pollution, and aquatic life depletion. Keywords such as Eco-friendly, coral safe, or ocean safe are just some of the eye-catching terms used by some sunscreen companies pushing green products. Many popular companies talk about the dangers of Oxybenzone, the main ingredient, in many sunscreen. They tell you they use zinc oxide as an alternative, even stating their product is concentrated for better protection from the sun, and that it’s safe for the environment. Showing results from their paid studies to dazzle you into believing you’re making a difference by buying their products. Some market that they are a chemist and guarantee their product will not hurt the environment but is it true? All chemicals have an MSDS (material safety data sheet) or SDS (Safety data sheet)which any chemist or manufacture would have access to. So can someone tell me how are companies stating they are making a safer eco-friendly coral safe product when in fact the MSDS for zinc oxide clearly states it is very toxic to aquatic life and is a marine pollutant? It’s all in the wording. Sunscreen or sunblock is regulated by the FDA. Unfortunately the FDA does not determine if the product does harm it only regulates that any claims made on the ingredients label are correct. Zinic oxide is toxic to aquatic life and clearly stated on the global SDS listing for the chemical. Companies who have found a niche market and profit center selling green products found a loop hole in the FDA regulations. Makers of sunscreen and sunblock can make any claim even false if they want if they classify their product as cosmetics. The question that must be asked is why are so many eco-friendly foundation and organization promoting products which are harmful and counter productive to their intentions and goals. Could it be ignorance? Many of these foundation are made up of scientist and with PHD who could simply look up chemical ingredients such as zinc oxide and know the toxic and harmful affects to aquatic life. We must remember that foundations and research have a cost. Many of these sunscreen and sunblock companies make large donation for mutual marketing and product vetting and promotion. If you are wondering why would I write this post? Because we can do better. All the scientist and technology available in our modern world there is no reason we can not find or create a UV filter (sunscreen) that does not harm our only planet. The real question to be asked is what is the price of planet earth 2.

    Attached: MSDS sheet, Independent third-party research studies.

    UN proper shipping name
    Environmentally hazardous substance, solid, n.o.s. (zinc oxide)
    14.3
    Transport hazard class(s)
    9

    Packing group
    III
    I
    Environmental hazards
    yes
    yes
    Marine pollutant, Yes
    yes
    14.6

    E=++
    SECTION 15 – REGULATORY INFORMATION
    H ealth 2
    Fire 0
    Reactivity 0
    Personal Protection E
    2 = Temporary or minor injury may occur.
    0 = Materials that will not burn.
    0= Materials that are normally stable, even under fire conditions, and will not react with water, polymerize, decompose, condense, or self-react. Non-explosives.
    NFPA : (National Fire Protection Association)
    Health 1
    Fire 0
    Reactivity 0
    Personal Protection
    1 = Exposure would cause irritation with only minor residual injury
    0 = Materials that will not burn under typical fire conditions
    0=Normally stable, even under fire exposure conditions, and are not reactive with water.
    SDS Zinc oxide version 04-04/2013
    Page 11 of 12

    SECTION 16 – OTHER INFORMATION

    Very toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term adverse effects in
    the aquatic en vironment.
    Date of Issue:
    Last update:
    MSDS prepared by:
    April 2013
    April 2013
    Dr. A.R McMurray
    Avoid release to the environment. Refer to special instructions/Safety data
    sheets.
    SDS Zinc oxide version 04-04/2013
    Page 12 of 12

  4. Very informative! I suppose I am one of those people that didn’t do the research needed to make a more a in-depth decision. Thanks for taking the time to research, write and explain your findings.

    • People want to believe, it’s why it’s so easy to deceive in marketing. Virtues marketing specifically targets an individual’s desire to do go. Companies involved in virtues marketing have a saying. Never underestimate the power of willful ignorance

  5. Good story. But very odd that CORE was not mentioned.
    CORE rep. testified at the hearing.
    ÇORE initiated the process No one, including IGLA, was aware of sunscreen issue until informed by CORE. Sponsoring senators both were introduced to the problem by CORE. CORE has been doing educational outreach on sunscreen issue for 5 years in the VI and have been the local technical advisors to everyone involvef throughout the process.

  6. Palmers comment above has much truth but generally misleading. The FDA has removed all sunscreen chemicals Palmer supports from their “safe and effective” list,after analyzing the cost/benefit ratio based on thousands of studies, including ones Palmer quotes.FDA has not removed the components in mineral sunscreens from their safe list. Ultimately the solution with sunscreens is to limit use to non-nano zinc and non-nano titanium as main ingredients. There are many choices of those on market already, and many coming. The future for the big chemical companies should be there, instead of fighting improvements at each step as Palmer is advocating. They have huge advantages in doing beating everyone to the future instead of clinging to known poisons.

    • The FDA does not regulate cosmetics. The chemicals listed are listed as harmful under medical. Sunscreen companies like stream to sea represented by individuals as Autumn Blum have classified their products as cosmetic not medical for this very reason. The FDA under the cosmetic classification can only ensure that the label of ingredients is correct. Even then ingredients can be hidden under terms as natural ingredients, or specially formulated ingredients. The question that should be asked is why are these companies who are using virtues marketing and environmental issues to make profits hid

    • I’m not sure where you are headed with this argument, but a quick look at the back of any sunscreen in the US will show you that they are regulated as over the counter drugs by the FDA. Sunscreens are regulated much more stringently than cosmetics. Brands cannot hide natural or proprietary ingredients and be in compliance with the law. ‘Fragrance’ is the exception to this, as perfume houses often combine hundreds of ingredients under the label ‘fragrance.’ Not all fragrances are bad, but they certainly have the potential to be. Stream2Sea operates under full disclosure and spends alot of time teaching consumers how to read ingredient labels to make knowledgable decisions.

      Autumn Blum
      Founder & Formulator
      Stream2Sea

  7. Hiding behind FDA loop holes. Palmer is correct, international safety data sheets have shown that zinc oxide and titanium oxide are toxic to aquatic life. It should be noted that UV industry paints etc have established that both zinc and titanium are marginal as UV blockers.

  8. Tom, what good can come from deceiving the public. Does it help the shallow water coral? No it does not, it’s just another eco theater where companies who knowly engage in virtuas propaganda to increase market share for profit. If you want positive change you must first be willing to be honest about the problem. Deception and redirection has always been easier than responsibility.

  9. The MSDS sheet referenced above is based on industrial nanotized zinc oxide. There have been no studies published to date that I could find showing toxicity of non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The studies that have been published either specify industrial grade nano, or fail to document the particle size at all. This is in stark contrast to the numerous studies showing endocrine disruption and toxicity for the common UV filters oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene.

    Even as an experienced cosmetic chemist, I was also confused by the toxicity data when I first began researching this issue. This is why I formulated Stream2Sea using the safest ingredients I could, then worked with Eckerd College to test our products for safety on freshwater fish, saltwater fish, and coral larvae.

    Despite what is said above, sunscreens are regulated by the US FDA as OTC drugs. They must be tested for efficacy and broad-spectrum protection. Every word on the BACK PANEL of the label is highly regulated. The front of the label is a different story, and there’s no stopping deceptive marketers from saying their products are reef safe without any backing to prove it. I stopped at the market while in St. Thomas and was disgusted by two brands that stated ‘reef friendly or reef safe’ on the front panel, where a quick scan of the ingredients showed they had simply replaced oxybenzone and octinoxate with avobenzone and octocrylene.

    Unfortunately, the conscious consumer does need to be educated on the pros and cons of mineral UV reflectors vs chemical UV absorbers. Since the Virgin Islands have taken the first step to removing these ingredients from their waters, I’m afraid naysayers and half-truths surreptitiously promoted by chemical industry lobbyists will run rampant trying to further confuse the issue over the next few months.

    No one is claiming that sunscreens are the primary cause of coral disease and decline. But these ingredients HAVE been shown to cause significant harm, prevent reproduction, and make the corals more susceptible to disease. Add in that the FDA is also questioning human safety, then why on earth would we not work to remove them from our environment, when there are other, safer choices including wearing rash guards, seeking shade, and applying non-nano mineral sunscreens to exposed skin?

    Congratulations to CORE for educating and initiating this topic, to Island Green Living Association for educating and rallying support, and to the Senators for their hard work passing the initial steps for healthier reefs. Well done on the article as well, Ms. Lee.

    Autumn Blum
    Founder & Formulator
    Stream2Sea

    • Thank you for sharing the facts Autumn. I have not found any research substantiating these surprising claims that zinc and titanium dioxide are damaging to coral either. However, I HAVE read research that shows oxybenzone and octinoxate are harmful to coral in a plethora of ways. Also, claims that zinc is not a good protector from the sun are unfounded, as the FDA lists it as having the highest levels of protection, guarding against both UVA and UVB rays. Scientists aren’t trying to ‘market’ you false information guys.

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