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Sunscreen chemicals need environmental risk assessment, report says

by Cheryl Hogue
August 9, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 28

A woman on a beach applies sunscreen to her arm.
Credit: Shutterstock
Active ingredients in sunscreen are important for protection against skin cancer and they may harm aquatic life.

The US Environmental Protection Agency should assess the risks that active ingredients in sunscreens pose to certain aquatic ecosystems, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends. The EPA should focus on the 15 organic chemicals and 2 inorganic compounds, individually and in combination, approved for US use as filters in sunscreens to protect skin from ultraviolet radiation, a report from the National Academies says. And the EPA should concentrate on ecosystems that have the heaviest exposure to sunscreen ingredients, such as coral reefs in shallow water with heavy recreational use and limited flow of sea water, it says. “An ecological risk assessment will help inform efforts to understand the environmental impacts of UV filters, and potentially clarify a path forward for managing sunscreens,” Charles A. Menzie, principal scientist at the consulting firm Exponent who chaired the committee that wrote the report, says in a statement. The congressionally mandated study says sunscreen makers and US federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, should fund research on long-term ecological effects of UV-filtering sunscreen chemicals.


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