[Coral-List] Sunscreen & coral

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Feb 19 19:11:12 UTC 2019

  A few points.  I think I made the point earlier that the introduction to
Craig Downs article lists and provides references to a large number of
studies documenting toxic effects on a wide variety of organisms that these
chemicals can cause.  So if anybody is interested in looked at that, there
are loads of references there.  At the very least, it demonstrates that
these chemicals are very capable of producing toxic effects in a wide
variety of organisms.
    That said, the organisms in all but a very few of the studies are not
corals, and corals are located in places that are different from many of
those other orgamisms.  The fact that many organisms can be affected
suggests it is likely that corals can too, and now we have a small number
of studies that confirm that.
     The problem is that those studies are not directly relevant.  They do
NOT demonstrate what the threshold concentrations that affect corals are,
and they do NOT demonstrate what the concentrations of these chemicals are
in the water where corals are (as far as I know, though I haven't looked
through to find the locations of all these studies).  Concentrations are
critical.  ALL chemicals are toxic in the right concentrations.  Too much
water ingested can kill a person.  Corals are killed by immersion in fresh
water.  It's toxic in high enough concentrations.  Every last chemical in
every sunscreen (and beer or carrots or anything else) IS TOXIC at high
enough concentrations.
    Do we know that the chemicals in other sunscreens are both effective in
screening out the type of UV rays that cause cancer, AND are non-toxic to
corals as the concentrations present around corals where tourists swim??  I
doubt it, but maybe someone could speak to that.  We DO know that UV causes
skin cancer, it is very common, and causes human deaths.  What about
precaution for that?  What is the cost/benefit ratio??
    Sorry, if you don't want to address the points that this person made,
and just want to say that since they work for the sunscreen industry they
must be biased, that's your choice.  But it doesn't show that they were
wrong.  And the studies you refer to do not appear to show he's wrong.
(which also shouldn't be assumed to show that there is no problem, just
that if he's right, the few studies on corals are not airtight proof.  We
scientists produce airtight proof a lot less often than we may think.  If
you look at many papers and ask "is this airtight proof?"  The answer is
often no, I think.  Good information, and seems reasonable, sure.  Proof?
Often not.
     In a nutshell, your post does not address the points in the other
     Your last paragraph begins with a sentence that implies much more than
it states and is, in my view, highly misleading.  It is quite true that if
global warming was not happening, reefs would still be in decline.  They
were in decline before climate change kicked in significantly.  Disease was
the main thing that produced decline of corals in the Caribbean, until
relatively recently.  AND, your statement about chemicals in the waters is
surely true, there are a wide variety of chemical pollutants in water
(though in the USA, the Clean Water Act has forced an improvement in water
quality generally).  Indeed, without global warming there are still loads
of other things damaging coral reefs that need to be dealt with and reduced
so they don't damage corals.  Some are very major, among those being
land-based water pollution such as nutrients, sediment, and chemicals, and
also coral disease.  But that does NOT show in any way that sunscreens are
a major threat to corals, or even a minor threat.  Might be a minor threat,
particularly to a few high value spots on reefs.  Very unlikely to be a
major threat, or it would be obvious many places.  As it is with high
temperatures causing mass coral bleaching and mortality.
       Cheers,  Doug

On Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 7:06 AM Risk, Michael via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> 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).
> 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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