Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual ExpertsRSS
Emily Driehaus | Science Communication Intern
Oxybenzone is a common sunscreen ingredient that has been shown to have negative impacts on human health and the environment. Evidence has shown that it can contaminate drinking water after being washed down the drain while showering off sunscreen.
What is Oxybenzone?
Oxybenzone is a UV filter used in sunscreen and other cosmetics. It absorbs UV rays from the sun and helps prevent them from penetrating the skin and causing sun damage. While it does help protect our skin against the sun, it has implications for both our health and the environment, particularly aquatic life.
Oxybenzone and Marine Life
Much of the concern regarding oxybenzone began when researchers noticed damage to coral reefs near beaches with many visitors. As sunscreen gets sloughed off the skin by the water and sand, it can make its way into the ocean and harm aquatic life. Coral reefs are especially susceptible to damage, as oxybenzone can harm normal growth and development, damage DNA and put them at an increased risk of bleaching.
Health Implications of Oxybenzone
As research into oxybenzone has continued, it has been designated as an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors interfere with normal hormonal processes in the body and can impact the reproductive system. Most research on oxybenzone in the human body has focused on absorption through the skin rather than ingestion, but more evidence has shown that oxybenzone is present in drinking water, especially in communities near large bodies of water.
How Does Oxybenzone Get Into Drinking Water?
After a day at the beach, most individuals hop in the shower to rinse off the sunscreen and sand that has accumulated on their skin throughout the day. When this water goes down the drain, it goes to wastewater treatment plants to be treated before being released into water sources, which can be used for drinking water. Wastewater treatment plants and drinking water facilities lack the ability to filter out endocrine disruptors like oxybenzone, so it ends up in drinking water consumed by the public. A study looking at oxybenzone in Honolulu tap water showed that individuals consume between 0.8-1.2 micrograms of oxybenzone a day from drinking water. This concentration is not particularly harmful to fully grown adults, but can have a greater impact on children, infants and developing fetuses.
Regulations on Oxybenzone
The previously mentioned study was submitted as part of testimony on a bill that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone in the state of Hawaii. The bill passed in 2018 and went into effect at the beginning of this year. The city of Key West, Florida has also enacted a ban on sunscreens with oxybenzone in an effort to protect coral reefs. These bans are not without controversy, as skin damage from UV rays can lead to skin cancer and banning sunscreens with oxybenzone leaves individuals in these areas with one less form of sun protection.
What Should I Do if I’m Concerned About Oxybenzone in my Water?
Carbon water filters are able to filter out oxybenzone and other endocrine disruptors. Using sunscreen with ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide rather than oxybenzone can also reduce your overall exposure. Switching sunscreens will also help protect aquatic life when you swim in bodies of water like lakes or oceans.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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The New York State Legislature recently passed a bill to help make drinking water in schools safer. National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that this bill lowers the Action Level of lead detected at school drinking water taps from the current EPA Action Level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) down to 5 ppb, which is the bottled water lead concentration limit set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all recognize that there is no safe level of lead for children. However, the 5 ppb Action Level is much closer to the recommended lead level recommended by the AAP of 1 ppb, so it is a major step forward in helping New York school children access safer drinking water in schools.
Emily Driehaus | Science Communication Intern
The ongoing drought in the western United States has severely depleted water supplies and left many states with water shortages. Water restrictions have been implemented in parts of California with more on the way. The lack of water can have an impact on both drinking water quality and water infrastructure.
Droughts and Water Supplies
The most apparent impact of a drought is the loss of water resources due to the lack of precipitation. An increase in temperature can also speed up the rate of evaporation of water from water supplies. This combination of factors can lead to drought conditions like what is currently being seen in the western U.S. Both natural bodies of water and human-made reservoirs are being depleted at alarming rates, leading to water shortages and restrictions.
How Can Droughts Impact Water Quality?
A lack of rainfall can lead to reduced flow of rivers and streams, causing stagnation. Rainfall and other precipitation helps to keep rivers and streams flowing, but this stagnation from a reduced flow can lead to a buildup of pollutants. Microorganisms and viruses can contaminate stagnant water and can be transmitted through both drinking water and water used for watering crops. People who use private wells for drinking water are also more susceptible to these contaminants, as there is little flow during a drought.
Impacts on Water Infrastructure:
The low water supply caused by droughts can have an impact on water systems, especially smaller systems. Poor water quality can affect a treatment facility’s ability to meet acceptable drinking water standards. This loss in water pressure can lead to boil-water advisories, which can add to the heat that often accompanies drought. Older pipes can also exacerbate water loss during a drought due to leaks.
With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of droughts, the EPA is looking to help communities with drought resiliency. These efforts include installing water-efficient plumbing, such as low-flow toilets and showerheads that conserve water. Encouraging water reuse is also part of these efforts. For example, using water from a shower to water plants could be part of these efforts. As climate change exacerbates the impacts of droughts, these water conservation efforts will become increasingly important.
How Do I Prepare for Water Shortages in a Drought?
According to the USGS, preparation before a drought should focus on water conservation. Replacing leaky plumbing and installing low-flow fixtures can conserve water in the long run, especially during a drought. During a drought, the Red Cross recommends not pouring water down the drain when it could be used for another purpose, such as watering plants. Conserving as much water as possible will allow for more water from faucets to be used for drinking during a drought.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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