Christopher Gavigan is the author of the best-selling parenting guide: Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home, and is the CEO / Executive Director of the national non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World. Gavigan has become a leading voice in the children’s environmental health arena as he presses for stronger regulation and chemical policy reform and continues to help design safer, price competitive, non-toxic products for families to create healthier homes and lifestyles.
Q. What are the impacts of sunscreen on the health of our children and that of the ocean’s?
A. Sunscreen is an invaluable outdoor necessity for protecting skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays, but like any other product you want one that actually works and isn’t loaded with potentially dangerous chemicals. Recent reports have emphasized the need to be savvy sunscreen consumers. The Environmental Working Group’s comprehensive scientific review
http://www.ewg.org/whichsunscreensarebest/2009report indicates that two of five brand name sunscreens either don’t protect skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals or both.
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control http://goo.gl/34f8r. (CDC) found that nearly all Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, a sunscreen chemical that has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage, and low birth weight.
Here are some common ingredients to AVOID in sunscreens: PABA, Benzophenone (benzophenone-3), homosalate, and octy-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), Oxybenzone, Parabens (butyl-, ethyl-, methyl-, and propyl-),
Padimate-O, and Phthalates (often hiding in “fragrance”). Roughly 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of toxic sunscreens are estimated to wash off swimmers into the oceans every year. By some estimates, this has led to sunscreen-induced bleaching of up to 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs. Reef Safe sunscreens were subjected to a comprehensive series of independent laboratory tests to support and authenticate the biodegradability of the lotions. The research found that 99 percent of the material biodegraded in seawater within 60-80 days, while no evidence of toxicity to micro-organisms and other sea life was detected. source: http://www.pr.com/press-release/212154
Q. What specific tips and advice would you offer to parents who wish to bring their children to a safe day at the beach and swim in the ocean?
- Pick a beach that is tested regularly for cleanliness, and that notifies you when it is unsafe to go in the water. Contact your local or state environmental protection office or public health agency. Oftentimes you can do an on-line search of your favorite beach’s name with the words “water quality” to find information.
- Wait at least 24 hours after a heavy rainfall before swimming. Heavy rains can stir up polluted sediment and cause sewage systems to overflow into storm drains.
- If possible, choose beaches that are away from urban areas or that have good water circulation.
- Avoid swimming in beach water that is cloudy or smells bad.
- Avoid swimming near storm drains.
- Look for trash and other forms of pollution like oil slicks.
- Check out the surrounding environment. What’s adjacent to the water? Farmland or golf courses could mean high levels of pesticides are running off into the water. If there’s an industrial facility upstream, you could be swimming in their effluent.
- Avoid getting water in your mouth.
- The Natural Resources Defense Council rates the top 100 beaches http://oceans.nrdc.org/beachgoers/map, but for smaller beaches you’ll need to do some hunting.
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