Washington State is proposing to phase out copper-based antifouling coatings on its thousands of recreational vessels.
The American Coatings Association, which represents coatings manufacturers, is fighting the proposal against the popular biocide, and ACA representatives have testified against any ban.
‘A Terrible Precedent’
The industry group is offering an alternative approach that would have the state's Department of Ecology evaluate the possibility of setting standards for lower levels of copper in antifouling coatings over time as coatings technology advances. Those standards would take into account, among other things, the ability of such coatings to prevent attachments of marine life that introduce invasive species.
ACA fears that the bill, while relatively limited in its current form, could “serve as a terrible precedent for other U.S., foreign and international authorities to follow,” the association said in a recent statement.
“The legislation is on a fairly fast track and ACA, its member companies, and its Pacific Northwest Paint Council are working hard to turn this around by bringing the real facts into the legislative discussion, including studies by Washington's own Department of Ecology showing that existing levels of copper in Washington waters have no adverse impact on aquatic life.”
‘Unintended Lethal Effects’
According to the bill, however, a 2007 DOE study of copper concentrations in marinas found antifouling paints on boat hulls to be the primary source of copper in the water. “Research has shown copper to be highly toxic to aquatic life,” according to the nonpartisan staff report accompanying the legislation.
The bill states: “The legislature finds that copper used in antifouling boat bottom paints are slowly released into the water by waterborne vessels and contribute to both water and sediment pollution. The legislature finds that contamination from boat bottom paints containing copper is a significant contributor to water pollution going into Puget Sound and other waters of the state.”
“Boat bottom paints containing copper or other toxic substances may have unintended lethal effects on other aquatic organisms, including salmon,” the measure says.
The legislation has been prompted by concerns raised by the Puget Sound Alliance (PSA) over the impact of copper specifically on salmon fry. Heavy exposures in laboratory testing have shown reductions in the salmon's sense of smell, which might make them more vulnerable to predators.
PSA's actions have included threatened lawsuits against marina and boat yard owners for storm water runoff that carries copper antifouling paint residue. This has prompted the marina owners “to support a phase-out of the coatings on a fairly rapid schedule,” according to ACA.
The bill was the subject of a public hearing in January that resulted in some easing of the provisions and stretching out of the implementation schedule. Under the current version, approved Feb. 15:
• “Recreational water vessels” are defined as those used primarily for pleasure or leased, rented, or chartered to a person for pleasure use. This does not include vessels subject to U.S. Coast Guard inspection, those engaged in commercial use, or those carrying paying passengers.
• After Jan.1, 2017, no manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer or distributor may sell or offer for sale in Washington State any new recreational water vessel with antifouling paint containing copper.
• After Jan. 1, 2020, no antifouling paint containing more than 0.5 percent of copper may be offered for sale in Washington State.
• By Jan. 1, 2017, the state’s Department of Ecology must survey manufacturers of boat paint sold or offered for sale in the state to determine the types of antifouling boat paints that are available there. The findings must be presented to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2018.
• Working with other state natural resources agencies, DOE must increase education efforts regarding recreational water vessel hull cleaning to reduce the spread of invasive species. This includes a review of best practices that consider the type of antifouling paint used and recommendations regarding appropriate hull cleaning that includes in-water methods.
Violations would carry a civil fine of up to $10,000 per day per violation.
Pros and Cons
The bill’s proponents note that the state is already phasing out copper in brake pads. They also say that effective, affordable alternatives to paints and products with copper are already available and that some boatyards are already copper free.
“Even after the paint is banned, there will be several years’ delay before the vast majority of recreational vessels are using nontoxic paint,” according to a legislative summary of the proponents’ views. “Boatyards are closing because of copper contamination; this bill is vitally important to our industry.”
Critics, including ACA, say that banning copper antifouling coatings risks increasing invasive species in the waters. They recommend further study before proceeding with a ban.
“Currently, there is no evidence that the copper levels resulting from boat hull coatings present any real harm to the fisheries in Washington,” according to the summary of the opponents’ views. “The studies to date show there are no high levels of copper found in the waters where salmon travel, as the problem exists in marinas.”
“The greater risk is allowing an invasive species into the waters and spending millions of dollars to eradicate it.”