U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Proposes Legislation to Address Damage to Coral Reefs From Sunscreen

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) today introduced legislation aimed at protecting coral reefs from sunscreen chemicals.

The Oxybenzone and Octinoxate Impact Study Act of 2019, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), would require the Environmental Protection Agency to study the effect of two common sunscreen chemicals on the environment and public health.

A separate measure, the Reef Safe Act of 2019, would require the Food and Drug Administration to label sunscreens that do not harm coral reefs.

“While sun protection is incredibly important, we need to take action if these chemicals are harming human health or our environment,” Merkley said in a statement. “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.”

Octinoxate and oxybenzone, two key ingredients in commercial sunscreen, damage the DNA of coral reefs, making them less resilient to climate change. The chemicals can also harm sea urchins, dolphins, shellfish and sea turtle eggs.

The FDA found recently that in a single day of sunscreen use, chemicals can accumulate in a person’s bloodstream at potentially unsafe levels.

In the past year, the state of Hawaii and the city of Key West, Fla. have voted to restrict the sale of sunscreens with harmful chemicals.

Merkley’s legislation would require that the results of the EPA’s study of octinoxate and oxybenzone be made public within 18 months of it being conducted.