Copper, Ablatives and Alternatives (a 3-part Series)
Tried-and-true practices of dealing with biofouling, such as power washing hulls at a boat ramp or slapping on a new coat of copper paint, are at an end. A real ‘sea change’ has come: politicians, recreational boaters, fishermen, and scientists, are all beginning to taking responsibility for clean seas.
There are 6 million boats in the United States requiring protection from marine fouling; ancient and ineffective coating technologies aren't the way forward for the survival of the marine industry or the marine environment. Boaters and mariners need a revolutionary alternative.
Part 1: Copper:
A 30-foot copper coated hull leaches copper at a rate of about 2 lbs. per year. (8 micrograms of copper per sq. cm of surface per year.) That amounts to 3,000 to 16,000 tons leaching into the ocean each year.US harbor copper levels have exceeded EPA standards for toxicity (3.1 parts per billion) for several years.
The main copper pollutants: passive leaching from boats and power washing at marinas. The extent of copper pollution has prompted restriction of copper-paint use by boat owners, with the added prevention of wastewater being drained into the sea by shipyards and marinas.
Florida. 160 miles of Florida estuaries are contaminated with copper. High copper levels were measured in 14 marinas and in the flesh of shellfish. An environmental survey of a 40-mile stretch of coast found 1.7 tons of copper are being released each year from sailboats, 2.1 tons per year from powerboats, and 1.4 tons per year from just seven cruise ships.
New England. NOAA found copper levels in Maryland waters at four times the EPA standard. New laws in place in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maryland boatyards require installations of expensive wastewater collection systems and water hauling to a treatment plant.
A 2002 study conducted by Maine determined the contribution of bottom paint and wash water to sediment contamination revealed high concentrations of heavy metals:
Bottom Sediment Bottom Sediment Contaminant* Paint Sanding Dust Wash water After Washing 5 Months Later
* For reference, standards for drinking water are: 1.3 parts per million (ppm) for Copper, 0.015 ppm for Lead, and 5 ppm for Zinc
California. Copper contamination measures as high as 29 parts per billion in Newport Bay, Californa and 12 parts per billion in San Diego Bay. San Diego’s Shelter Island Yacht Basin alone leaches an estimated 2.5 tons of copper from the bottoms of 2,000 boats every year, in spite of the fact that San Diego studies confirm birth defects in mussels and physiologic impairment of oysters, scallops, sea urchins, and crustaceans caused by copper pollution.
The Port of San Diego conducted extensive studies to evaluate non-biocide bottom paints in preparation for a copper phase-out. The study concluded that environmentally friendly hull coatings work just as well or better than copper bottom paints, noting that non-biocide paints last longer than traditional hull paints, benefitting the boat owner through cost-savings due to their longevity (up to ten years).
Washington. Following government studies in the state of Washington that demonstrated damage to salmon from excessive copper pollution, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance sued five boatyards under the Clean Water Act. In response, the Northwest Marine Trade Association sponsored legislation to phase out copper paint entirely in order to avoid further contamination andmore lawsuits against Washington boatyards.Washington was the first U.S. state to pass a ban on copper bottom paint on recreational boats.
Moving Forward: California continues to work on passing similar legislation. It is worth noting that, in a similar move two decades ago, tributyltin (TBT), which also enjoyed widespread use across the marine industry, was phased out and banned in the US and by the International Maritime Organization. Bans on copper bottom paints in marinas, states and countries have begun to follow suit.
In the worst scenarios floated to date, the complete phase-out of copper in bottom paints should occur within the next nine years. In a statement, Bob Donat of Interlux (manufacturer of traditional antifouling paint) said: “We defend the science of copper and the use of it, as do our sister companies. I don’t believe copper is killing our waters, but if California wants to ban copper, 100 percent completely, we’re prepared for that.” It is a telling omen that even those loathe to wake up to the sea change are aware of what's happening.
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Beginning January 1, 2018, no manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, or distributor may sell or offer for sale in this state any new recreational water vessel manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, with antifouling paint containing copper. Beginning January 1, 2020, no antifouling paint that is intended for use on a recreational water vessel and that contains more than 0.5 percent copper may be offered for sale in this state. Beginning January 1, 2020, no antifouling paint containing more than 0.5 percent copper may be applied to a recreational water vessel in this state.
RCW 90.48.080: It is illegal for "any person to throw, drain, run, or otherwise discharge into any of the waters of this state, or to cause, permit or suffer to be thrown, run, drained, allowed to seep or otherwise discharged into such waters any organic or inorganic matter that shall cause or tend to cause pollution of such waters."
WAC 173-201A-020: "Pollution" means contamination or alteration of the physical, chemical, or biological properties of any waters of the state that render such waters harmful, detrimental, or injurious to the public health, safety, or welfare.
WAC 173-201A-240: The concentration of copper in marine waters cannot be above 3.1 parts per billion.
RCW 90.48.144: Any person who violates "RCW 90.48.080, or other sections of this chapter or chapter 90.56 RCW or rules or orders adopted or issued pursuant to either of those chapters, shall incur, in addition to any other penalty as provided by law, a penalty in an amount of up to ten thousand dollars a day for every such violation."