[Coral-List] Sunscreen & coral

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Feb 19 19:07:44 UTC 2019

    I have the same thought about high-value reefs that have large numbers
of tourists wearing sunscreen on them, they are the most likely to be
affected by higher concentrations of these chemicals.  Whether corals will
be affected or not will likely depend on what the concentrations are, if
they are below the thresholds for effects on corals there will be little or
no effects, if above, there will be effects.  Critical question is whether
concentrations above threshold are common or not.  For sewage, that may
depend on how it enters the ocean, how concentrated, and so on.
    I'm glad to see that you think that statements that sunscreen chemicals
cause mass coral bleaching events are ridiculous.  Does that include the
statement on Craig Downs' website, which continues to be on his website,
that "Chemicals in sunscreen that come off while swimming or travel through
sewage systems when washed off in the shower are “bigger than climate
change,” in causing coral reef damage, according to Craig Downs, "?
Such statements fuel the public's view that these ridiculous statements are
true and that sunscreens ARE documented to be a huge problem for corals.
Yet, as I stated, I know of no hard evidence a single coral in the ocean
has been killed by them.  It may be true that Downs did not say that, in
which case he has put a statement he knows is incorrect on his website.  No
wonder so many people think it is such a  big deal, even though there is no
hard evidence it is killing lots of corals.
      Cheers,  Doug

On Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 6:58 AM Risk, Michael via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Thank you for that, Kurt.
> I think you are being far too modest. Readers may wish to know that you
> are a plant physiologist, Product Protection Deputy director of Johnson &
> Johnson, especially their sunscreens.
> On another note: there have been several time-wasting posts on this
> subject, and I am sure we are all waiting for a real expert to chime in. I
> wish to respect Craig Downs' privacy, but he is in the middle of a fairly
> serious health issue and has bigger fish to fry. Some may be interested in
> a previous statement of his:
> "I would like to “put to bed” an issue that every single cosmetic company
> has asked me thus far.  The statement is part of a fallacious “strawman”
> argument.
> ·         “Oxybenzone threatens every coral reef in the world.”  A
> modification of this statement is “oxybenzone causes global or mass coral
> bleaching events”.  It is easy to make this strawman argument, but it is
> also easy to quickly show the ridiculousness of the statement.  What I have
> always said in public is that oxybenzone most likely threatens coral reefs
> that matter most to the bulk of people in different countries/society –
> reefs near where people live and visit them.  Reefs important to tourism,
> provide food, sustain real estate values, etc.  Environmental contamination
> happens at least two ways on coral reefs, either by (1) swimmers, and/or
> (2) sewage.  So wherever there are people, especially societies that use
> sunscreen protection products, there is the possibility of
> contamination/pollution.  Reefs surrounding remote, uninhabited islands
> wouldn’t be expected to be exposed to oxybenzone."
> Email to Jim Hendee and Kurt Reynertson, Feb 2017.
> ________________________________________
> 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).
> Refs
> 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
> Best,
> Kurt Reynertson, PhD
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Douglas Fenner
Ocean Associates, Inc. Contractor
NOAA Fisheries Service
Pacific Islands Regional Office
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

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