Coral reefs: French study confirms the negative effect of several UV filters

On Monday, September 18, a report from the French Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Health (ANSES) underscored the detrimental effects of various substances on coral reefs. The investigation screened 53 substances, discovering that approximately half, including multiple UV filters, may contribute to coral degradation. Nevertheless, the Agency cautions that this figure is likely an underestimate.

Initiated in 2018 by the French government to assess chemical substances in consumer products impacting corals, ANSES advocates for limiting the release of hazardous substances at the source. The Agency conducted a risk assessment for around fifty potentially toxic substances, such as UV filters, hydrocarbons, pesticides, and metals, based on data from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion Island, and Mayotte.

The report highlights that around 50% of the assessed substances pose risks to coral reefs and contribute to their deterioration. ANSES, however, emphasizes the likelihood of underestimation due to insufficient data. The study incorporated findings from the French Biodiversity Agency and PatriNat, listing chemicals with potential toxic effects on corals.

Regarding UV filters, the report identifies three substances—oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene—as particularly toxic to corals. ANSES previously recommended banning octocrylene in sunscreen products due to environmental effects. The report challenges brands’ claims of marine environment respect, insisting such assertions must be substantiated by scientific studies. Oxybenzone, octinoxate, or octocrylene presence, according to ANSES, contradicts the feasibility of supporting such claims.

Addressing these concerns, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Eilat proposed a new industry-wide standard, Reef Protection Factor (RPF), to validate claims related to marine environment protection.

ANSES advocates for enhanced monitoring of chemicals affecting coral reefs and urges restrictions or bans on the use and marketing of harmful substances under regulations like REACH. Additionally, the Agency recommends refining the selection of locations and operation of wastewater treatment systems to minimize chemical releases into the marine environment.