The legislative noose is tightening on copper-based antifouling paints, as California has become the second state poised to ban their use in recreational vessels.
Though the measures do not currently affect military or commercial vessels, coatings makers say the proposals set “a terrible precedent” for antifouling paints nationally and even internationally.
On June 1, the California State Senate voted 25-13 along party lines to approve SB 623, which would ban the use of copper-based antifouling paints on recreational vessels.
The bill would prohibit boat manufacturers from selling recreational vessels with copper-based bottom paint after 2014 and prohibit recreational boat owners from using or applying copper-based paint after 2018.
|The current proposals cover only recreational vessels, but coatings makers fear that the limits may spread.|
Military and commercial vessels, as well as vessels with paying passengers, would be exempted.
Boating Industry Opposition
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego, said the delayed implementation would allow plenty of time for paint manufacturers to develop alternative coatings and boat owners to apply them.
Boat owners disagree.
Recreational Boaters of California, a lobbying group founded in 1965, remains strongly opposed to SB 623 unless implementation is delayed until sufficient “effective, available and affordable” alternative paints have come to market. In May, the group issued a “Call to Arms,” urging boaters to contact their legislators to fight the bill.
Antifouling Performance Cited
The Boat Owners Association of the United States (Boat U.S.), with 500,000 members, has also criticized “the latest trend on the west coast to ban copper paint for recreational boats, and the implications this has, including the potential to increase invasive species.”
The group said in a statement on its website that it had been monitoring development of alternative antifouling paints for more than a decade. Its concerns include:
· Few choices: In March 2011, Practical Sailor analyzed 62 antifouling paints, including 12 that contained no copper. One non-copper paint (which contained zinc) rated “excellent” in performance, one rated “fair,” and 10 “poor,” Boat U.S. said.
· Invasive species control: Copper paints currently serve as the top defense against invasive species transfer from hulls to waterways.
· Selective enforcement: “This ban would only apply to recreational boats, which may not provide a large enough market to stimulate research and development on alternative coatings,” Boat U.S. said.
“Boat U.S. encourages innovation in antifouling paint, and we hope that sustainable solutions for boaters and the environment can be found,” the group said.
WA Bill Advances
California’s bill follows a similar measure now working its way through the Washington State Legislature. And although both bills currently apply only to recreational vessels, the American Coatings Association, which represents coatings manufacturers, sees a disturbing trend shaping up.
ACA testified against the Washington bill earlier this year, saying the measure could “serve as a terrible precedent for other U.S., foreign and international authorities to follow.”
“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,” ACA said in a statement.
ACA has released no statement on the California measure.
Whatever the fate of these two bills, copper-based antifoulings are likely to continue to draw increasing scrutiny, criticism and research.
Alarmed by high copper levels in San Diego Bay, the Port of San Diego is investing up to $500,000 in research designed to develop non-toxic alternatives to copper-based hull coatings.
The Board of Port Commissioners agreed in October to spend $265,000 for three research projects with the goal of phasing out copper-based coatings in the bay. It also set aside $235,000 for additional hull paint research.
The port, marinas and other parties are under orders from a state agency to clean up copper contamination in San Diego Bay's Shelter Island Yacht Basin.