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Hawaiʻi Island lawmakers consider stricter sunscreen laws


A bill to further limit sunscreens sold on Hawaiʻi Island is being considered by county lawmakers.

The state already bans the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, but a Hawaiʻi County Council proposed law would only allow the sale of non-mineral sunscreens if prescribed by a physician.

Non-mineral sunscreens use an active ingredient other than titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Kona councilmember Rebecca Villegas, the introducer of Bill 167, said it would further state and county economic initiatives that are already in place, and limit the county's contributions to harming the environment.

“This piece of legislation is in alignment with the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures which is a resolution that we passed as a body in the last term. It's in complete alignment with protecting our cultural and environmental and our coral reef ecosystems as an economic resource," she said at a May 17 meeting.

Beginning in 2021, the state did away with sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are believed to contribute to coral bleaching.

There are about 16 active ingredients used for sunscreen products. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are generally recognized as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Unfortunately, the term 'reef safe' has become a marketing term for greenwashing, that does not necessarily mean that a product is safe for our corals," Villegas noted.

Villegas said that specifically stating what can be sold will be more beneficial to retailers and users.

A similar measure passed on Maui last year, which this bill has borrowed language from, said co-introducer North Kona Councilmember Holeka Inaba. There, non-mineral sunscreens will be prohibited for sale or distribution beginning in October.

The bill would implement an up to $1,000 fine per incident. Money would go to the county's solid waste fund.

County Department of Environmental Management Director Ramzi Mansour voiced support for the bill, but did want to raise concerns and further dialogue that the bill "signs additional responsibility without identifying a funding source to carry them out."

Fellow councilmembers requested more scientific evidence, but ultimately supported the intention of the bill.

Bill 167 got a positive recommendation from the council’s Committee on Climate Resilience and Natural Resource Management at its first reading.

If the measure passes the full council, it would take effect in December.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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