Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 23, 2018

Contact: Emily Jeffers, (510) 844-7109,

Legal Petition Seeks U.S. Ban on Coral-killing Chemicals in Sunscreen

Push for Nationwide Ban Follows Hawaii Legislation Outlawing Toxic Sunscreens   

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today to ban two coral-killing chemicals from sunscreens and other personal care products. Oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to coral bleaching and death.

Today’s petition follows a similar measure approved May 1 by the state legislature in Hawaii, where coral reefs have been harmed by ocean warming, acidification and pollution from man-made chemicals and coastal runoff.

“Coral reefs are in real trouble, and the FDA can help. Removing coral-killing chemicals from sunscreens is a simple, obvious step we’re long overdue in taking,” said Emily Jeffers, a biologist and attorney at the Center. “There are great nontoxic sunscreens out there. As we enjoy our oceans this Memorial Day weekend, let’s not pollute them.”

Oxybenzone and octinoxate can foster viral infections in corals that hasten bleaching and death. Scientists estimate that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion enter coral reefs around the world every year. The impact of sunscreen chemicals is stronger on vulnerable coral’s larvae.

Lab studies have shown that even a miniscule amount of oxybenzone in the water is toxic to corals. Just 62 parts per trillion — the equivalent of three drops mixed into an Olympic-sized swimming pool — has been found to damage coral larvae. Scientists have found high concentrations of oxybenzone in many areas popular with sunscreen-slathered tourists, including Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, the Florida Keys and the U.S Virgin Islands.

Coral reefs are gravely threatened by ocean warming, ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution. In the past three decades, unusually warm waters have caused coral reefs around the world to experience unprecedented mass bleaching, the first step toward the death of these biologically rich and critically important marine ecosystems.

The petition also warns the FDA of its legal duty to prevent oxybenzone and octinoxate from jeopardizing endangered corals found off the coast of Florida and the U.S. Caribbean islands. In addition, the petition urges the agency to examine the environmental impacts of the two chemicals under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The FDA needs to heed the science and keep these harmful chemicals out of our imperiled coral reefs,” Jeffers said. “Coral reefs are the cornerstones of healthy oceans, and the least we can do is keep our sunscreen from killing them.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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