[Coral-List] Sunscreen & coral

Risk, Michael riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Thu Feb 14 16:26:31 UTC 2019

Dear listers: 

Joseph DiNardo is a retired chemist/toxicologist who has a peripheral interest in this matter. He was made aware of some recent exchanges, and has asked me to post the following (which means, don't take it up with me, but with Joe):

As a retired toxicologist with 43 years experience in the personal care industry who has also formulated dozens of sunscreen products and tested at least a 100 or so and who was part of providing data to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for the sunscreen monograph in the late 70’s … when oxybenzone and octinoxate were first  approved for human use based on, at best, sparse data that was submitted by industry who is now selling $10 BILLION a year globally compared to what we know today about these pseudo-persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disrupting chemicals … I would like to take a shot at explaining the current state of affairs associated with why Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are being banned.
First lets look at a very brief overview of aquatic toxicity reported in the peer-review literature for these substances (only the lead authors are noted in bold face print):
Octinoxate: demonstrates a variety of toxic effects (including mortality) to aquatic life, including but not limited to algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, bivalves, coral, and a variety of fish species (Bachelot, BASF, Brausch, Christen, Cunha, Fent, Inui, Kaiser, Kunz, Molins-Delgado, Ozaez, Paredes, Sang, Schreurs and Zucchi). The combined toxicity of octinoxate and oxybenzone in planktonic crustaceans was higher than the estimated EC50 (levels that cause death) for either chemical alone, suggesting that these results may be due to a synergistic effect of the UV-filters(Jang). In coral, it can cause bleaching, DNA damage, embryonic deformity, and mortality at levels in the parts per billion (Danovaro, He).
Oxybenzone:demonstrates a variety of toxic (including mortality) and endocrine disruption reactions to aquatic bacteria, microalgae, sea grass, planktonic crustaceans, harlequin fly, sea urchins, shrimp, bivalves and a variety of fish species (Paredes, Liu, Chen F, Corinaldesi, Mao, Braush, Balazs). In coral, it can cause bleaching, DNA damage, embryonic deformity, mortality, and skeletal endocrine disruption at levels in the parts per trillion (Downs, Danovaro, He, Tsui).It has been shown to be a notorious endocrine disruptor in fish with adult and juvenile males becoming feminized/developing egg proteins; reducing mature spermatozoa in testicular tissues, decreases aggressive behavior in Siamese fighting fish and reduces the number of eggs produce in females (Bluthgen, Kunz, Kinnberg, Rodriguez, Chen T, Schreurs, Coronado).  Additionally, Spanish scientists looking at the eggs of migratory/predatory birds that eat fish (western marsh harrier, common kestrel, white stork, slender-billed gull, black-headed gull, the gull-billed tern, and a gadwall duck) found them to be highly contaminated with 11 different UV chemicals, Oxybenzone being the most common (Molins-Delgado).
There are also numerous in vitro and in vivo studies demonstrating a variety of toxicities ranging from significant allergic and photo-allergic contact dermatitis reactions in thousands of people to increased cellular proliferation of human breast, prostate and lung cancer cells (12 papers) to human reproductive effects including decreases in human sperm mobility and Hirschsprung’s Disease that have been published by independent scientists from all over the world as well as government agencies like the US National Toxicology Program. In fact there are over 200 papers published describing everything from the bio-accumulation/magnification of these 2 chemicals in literally every body of water on this planet, contamination of our food chain and our bodies (i.e.; the Center for Disease Control has identified that roughly 97% of the US population has between parts per trillion to 3 parts per million of oxybenzone in their urine).  Again, this is just a brief summary of the toxicity associated with these chemicals.
Studies Demonstrating No Affect:
One would be remiss if data from papers that report a lack of adverse effect(s) to oxybenzone especially were to be omitted. A lack of: male reproductive toxicity in mice, dermal toxicity in rats and mutagenic potential in bacteria have been reported (Daston,Okereke, Cosmetic Ingredient Review),all three results are disputed by the National Toxicology Programs findings (French). Additionally, a lack of: genotoxicity, dermal allergy potential and an increase risk of uterine fibroids have been reported (Robison, FDA, Cosmetic Ingredient Review, Pollack), again others findings disagree (Cuquerella/Zhao/Hanson, Warshaw, Heurung, Verhulst, SCCP,Kunisue). It is not surprising that conflicting results are published; what is somewhat interesting is that four out of the six publications are from companies in the personal care products industry. 
With all that said, I find it hard to believe that any person from the personal care industry who finds “this topic fascinating” and wants to raise questions as “just a scientist” about why these substances are being banned – based on “2 papers”  with a “Klimish score of 3” can be anything but partial. Especially if they work for the number one sunscreen company in the world that is reported to be worth $74 BILLION that unfortunately has over 100,000 lawsuits (per the internet) and spends roughly $100 MILLION dollars in legal costs per year! I would think that such a scientist would say, let’s take 1% of what our corporation spends on just legal fees a year and use that to have independent scientists conduct research that would definitively prove or disprove the toxicity of these chemicals to our liking.
Further more, I would like to end with one other misnomer … if global warming (which doesn’t exist according to many) ended tomorrow, our waters would still be significantly polluted with thousands of chemicals which are harming aquatic life and entering into our bodies via the aquatic food chain … the coral would still be dying. Banning these two pseudo-persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disrupting chemicals, is just the first step in getting our world back … please continue to support the cause as an individual, as a scientist or simply as someone who cares!
Most Sincerely,
Joe DiNardo
chemicalsrtoxic at gmail.com

From: Coral-List [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] on behalf of Reynertson, Kurt [CPCUS] via Coral-List [coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov]
Sent: February 12, 2019 7:19 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Sunscreen & coral

Hello Coral-listers,

I'm a long-time reader who has never posted. This topic, however, is fascinating to me both from a scientific and policy angle. My disclaimer: I am posting as an interested scientist, and not as a representative of where I work.

I have read the primary literature on this topic with careful attention. What I fail to understand is how everyone assumes that "oxybenzone and octinoxate kill coral" based on the 2 papers in the primarily literature (1, 2).

Do these 2 papers really represent a weight of evidence? I think that is what Terry Hughes was addressing in the Conversation post.

Paper 1: The Danovaro paper places coral fragments in plastic bags and treats them to extremely high concentrations of sunscreen formulations (10 - 100 uL/L). It's not exactly clear what is really being tested, as the methods are not adequately described. And it seems that the stress of placing a sensitive organism in a plastic bag is more than unusual. Coral toxicologists I've talked to dismiss the relative significance of this paper.

Paper 2: The Downs paper is primarily based on cell culture studies. Cell culture has utility in science, but is NEVER used for environmental risk assessments. So the "toxicity" is questionable. The planulae assay is potentially more relevant, but has numerous methodological issues, including a lack of proper controls, the use of DMSO as a cosolvent, and test concentrations several orders of magnitude higher than what's been found by most of the monitoring studies. There’s no validation of the method for in situ coral, which are especially sensitive to fluctuations in light, temperature, salinity, etc. The monitoring portion of the paper is based on single samples taken from 5 sites in the US Virgin Islands and 7 sites Hawaii (most were below the LOQ). No replicates or blanks reported, and the analytical methods are lacking. Also: oxtinoxate is not even part of this study.

That's it. From a risk assessment standpoint, both studies would be assigned a Klimish score of 3, meaning they cannot be used for regulatory purposes. [FYI, Two more papers were published last month (3,4). They also lack some critical controls and still put these ingredients in the "low risk category."] That does not feel like a solid weight of evidence. If we are to accept this as a standard for banning a chemical, then there are many thousands of chemicals we should ban at the same time, including many of the "reef-safe" UV filters. There are certainly more than 2 papers on coral toxicity from titanium and zinc, and yet everyone seems to readily accept these ingredients are "reef-safe" in the same breath as they damn oxybenzone.

In fact, there's no regulatory or scientific criteria for "reef-safe." It's an opportunistic marketing term. What makes a sunscreen reef-safe anyway? I wish someone could explain that to me in scientific terms.

So should all sunscreen be banned based on the precautionary principle? The dermatologists and skin cancer experts do not think so. UV radiation is a Group 1 carcinogen, on par with smoking, and the WHO says that 4/5 of skin cancers are considered preventable. Hence the policy discussion.

P.S., These 2 ingredients are approved for use by heath agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide. Oxybenzone is NOT banned in Europe as someone suggested (5).

1) Danovaro, et al. (2008) Sunscreens cause coral bleaching by promoting viral infections. Environmental Health Perspectives. 116: 441-447.
2) Downs, et al. (2016) Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Arch Envtl
3) He, et al. 2019. Comparative toxicities of four benzophenone ultraviolet filters to two life stages of two coral species. Science of the Total Environment 651: 2391-2399.
4) He, et al. 2019. Toxicological effects of two organic ultraviolet filters and a related commercial sunscreen product in adult corals. Environmental Pollution 245: 462-471.
5) EU Cosmetic Regulation http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2009/1223/2016-08-12

Kurt Reynertson, PhD

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