Merkley Introduces Legislation to Protect Public Health & Coral Reefs from Potentially Harmful Sunscreen Chemicals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today introduced two pieces of legislation to address the growing threat that sunscreen chemicals pose to coral reefs around the world, and to study the impact of these chemicals on human health and the environment.

The Oxybenzone and Octinoxate Impact Study Act of 2019, cosponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the impacts of two key chemicals on human health and the environment. The Reef Safe Act of 2019 would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop standards for a “Reef Safe” label for sunscreens.

“While sun protection is incredibly important, we need to take action if these chemicals are harming human health or our environment,” said Merkley. “Understanding the full impact of these chemicals on our bodies and on marine life is a critical first step to making sure that we aren’t inadvertently putting ourselves or our planet in danger when we put on sunscreen for a day at the beach.”

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are ingredients in many commercial sunscreens. These chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors, harming the DNA of coral and making difficult for coral to survive climate change. Both chemicals can also detrimentally impact sea turtle eggs, shellfish, sea urchins and dolphins.

Additionally, a new FDA study released earlier this week found that it takes just one day of sunscreen use for these potentially dangerous chemicals to enter a person’s bloodstream.   

Learning more about these chemicals is critical both to protecting human health, and to understanding how our marine systems are affected by these sunscreen ingredients—an understanding that will be key to preventing further damage to the aquatic environment.

Merkley’s legislation would require the EPA to study the impacts of oxybenzone and octinoxate on human health and the environment, and require that the EPA provide Congress and the public with the findings of the study within 18 months.

Additionally, the Reef Safe Act of 2019 would require the FDA to set an industry standard for what sunscreens can be labeled “Reef Safe.”