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BGU Warning Leads Hawaii to Ban Sunscreen Ingredient

BGU Warning Leads Hawaii to Ban Sunscreen Ingredient

May 9, 2018

Natural Sciences

ISRAEL21c – On May 4, the Hawaii state legislature passed a ban on sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone (BP-3) after researchers from Ben-Gurion University and the United States provided significant evidence that BP-3 has caused coral bleaching at sites in Hawaii as well as in Eilat and the Caribbean.

Coral reef bleaching

Under the new legislation, which takes effect in 2021 once signed by Gov. Dave Ige, sunscreens containing this chemical will be banned.

The European Union attempted a similar ban and may now gain traction since the Hawaii bill passed. BP-3 is used in more than 3,500 personal-care products sold around the world to protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light.

The research indicates that oxybenzone coming from swimmers’ skin, municipal sewage discharge and coastal septic systems pollutes coral reefs.

“We found that oxybenzone caused gross morphological deformities, DNA damage and endocrine disruption, which causes the coral to close up and die,” explains Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, head of the Environmental Biotechnology Lab in the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology and Engineering.

“We are pleased to see our research will have a measurable impact on saving shrinking coral reef communities under siege from chemicals, waste runoff and climate change,” he says.

As much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion are emitted into coral reef areas annually, much of which contains between one and 10 percent oxybenzone. Prof. Kushmaro estimates that this year at least 10 percent of global reefs are at risk of high exposure, based on reef distribution in coastal tourist areas.

Corals in danger

The study found that oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, meaning that its adverse effects are exacerbated in light. But even in darkness, planulae (larval coral) were transformed from a mobile state to a deformed, immobile condition and exhibited an increasing rate of coral bleaching in response to increasing oxybenzone concentrations.

“In Israel, there is widespread use of sunscreens utilizing chemicals from the benzophenone group,” says Prof. Kushmaro.

“According to measurements not included in the study, similar concentrations of benzophenone have been found near the coral reefs in Eilat. Since it is likely that these chemicals are being washed off of swimmers’ bodies, it stands to reason that concentrations would be higher in swimming and snorkeling areas, such as the coral reef reserve in Eilat.”

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