In a report published on Monday September 18, the French Agency for food, environmental and occupational health (ANSES) has confirmed the negative impact of several substances on the health of coral reefs. Half of the 53 screened substances, including several UV filters, may contribute to their degradation, however the Agency warns this number is very likely to be underestimated.
Seized in 2018 by the French government to carry out an audit of chemical substances present in consumer products such as sunscreens, detergents or cosmetic products that have an impact on corals, ANSES called for the release of hazardous substances to be limited at the source.
The impact of several chemicals is confirmed
Of the hundred or so substances identified as potentially toxic to corals, the Agency was able to carry out a risk assessment for around fifty of them (including UV filters, hydrocarbons, pesticides and metals), based mainly on data available from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion Island and Mayotte.
“The report shows that half of the substances assessed may present risks for coral reefs and contribute to their degradation,” concludes the Agency, while warning that, in the absence of available data, this number is very likely to be underestimated.
To carry out this work, the French agency relied on a study by the French Biodiversity Agency and PatriNat, which lists chemicals likely to have toxic effects on corals.
“We then cross-referenced the danger thresholds applicable to corals for these substances with the concentration levels observed in the environment. This enabled us to identify the substances at risk for corals in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion,” explains Karen Burga, coordinator of these activities.
Substantiate claims regarding sunscreens
As far as the UV filter category is concerned, the report identified three substances in particular as toxic for corals: oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.
This summer, the French Agency already recommended a ban on the use of octocrylene in sunscreen products because of its effects on the environment.
In its recent report, ANSES said that the allegations (labels or pictograms) used by several brands to highlight their respect for the marine environment must be substantiated by scientific studies. However, the Agency considers that the presence of oxybenzone, octinoxate or octocrylene, “appears incompatible with the possibility of supporting such allegations.”
In order to clarify claims related to the protection of the marine environment, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Eilat recently proposed to introduce a new industry-wide standard dubbed RPF (for Reef Protection Factor).
Reducing the release of chemicals into the marine environment
The Agency recommends creating or strengthening the monitoring and surveillance of chemicals that have an impact on coral reefs.
ANSES is also calling for the release of hazardous substances to be limited at the source through the application of restrictions on the use of chemicals or bans on their marketing under regulations like REACH. Finally, it recommends improving both the choice of location and the operation of wastewater treatment systems.