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CA Drops Bid to Ban Copper Hull Paint

Monday, June 4, 2012

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In a huge win for coating manufacturers, a California state senator has abruptly halted her long-fought effort to ban the use of copper antifouling paint on recreational boats in the state.

Sen. Christine Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat, has withdrawn SB 623, which would have prohibited manufacturers from selling recreational vessels with copper-based bottom paint in California after 2014 and recreational boat owners from using or applying copper-based paint after 2018.

 Non-copper hull paints are being tested in the Port of San Diego, where all eight marina basins have been found to have an overload of copper.


Non-copper hull paints are being tested in the Port of San Diego, where all eight marina basins have been found to have an overload of copper. The state has ordered the Shelter Island Yacht Basin to reduce copper loading by 76% by 2028.

Kehoe has been pushing hard on the bill with the support of the Port of San Diego and San Diego Coastkeeper. Marina bays in the area have been seriously impacted by excessive copper, primarily from hull paint.

Kehoe’s measure easily passed the state Senate in June 2011, on the heels of a similar ban in Washington State that was signed into law the month before.

Troubled Waters

However, the California bill ran aground in the state Assembly, fueled by fierce opposition from boating groups and the American Coatings Association, which represents coating manufacturers. Although the ban would have applied only to recreational vessels, ACA feared the measure would set a bad precedent that could affect other marine coatings.

ACA and the boating groups also contend that today’s non-copper-based antifouling paints are not as effective or sufficiently available as copper-based biocide antifouling coatings.

“To say the least, we are very pleased with the results,” said John Hopewell, ACA’s Assistant Director of Environmental Affairs and International Programs, said Monday (June 4).

In August 2011, Kehoe quietly decided to hold off on the bill until this summer, to allow more time for the parties to work out a compromise.

“We are making progress, and we will be ready to move the bill next year,” Kehoe said at the time.

Last month, however, ACA approached Kehoe about delaying the measure yet again, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“(A) number of activities directly related to marine antifouling coatings have begun, which could fundamentally change the discussion, but no resolution on these activities will occur during the California legislative session this year,” Hopewell wrote. “(U)ntil these activities are concluded and results known, ACA believes that it is premature to mandate any legislative remedies.”

‘It Makes Sense to Defer’

Kehoe agreed.

In a letter Wednesday (May 30) to supporters and ACA, she cited studies now underway that could affect the science underpinning the measure. She also noted regulatory actions that could impact the issue.

 The bill’s future is uncertain. Its sponsor, State Sen. Christine Kehoe, must leave office at the end of 2012.


The bill’s future is uncertain. Its sponsor, State Sen. Christine Kehoe, must leave office at the end of 2012.

“As you know, my intent in introducing SB 623 was to develop a statewide solution for those local jurisdictions currently facing stringent Total Maximum Daily Load requirements and for those jurisdictions which may face them in the future,” Kehoe wrote.

“Given some of the outstanding issues highlighted in your letter, such as the near-completion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s marine Biotic Ligand Model for copper and the hull cleaning study requested of the marine coatings industry by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, I agree with you that it makes sense to defer the bill until some of these essential items are completed in 2013.”

But Kehoe will be long gone by then—under California’s term limits, she must leave office in December. And no other legislator has stepped forward to lead the issue. So the fate of any future legislation remains uncertain at best.

Persistent Problem

Still, the copper problem will require answers. Water quality in coastal waters and marina bays nationwide is being hard hit by copper and other metals in hull paints.

In California, all of San Diego’s eight marina basins have been found to suffer from overloading of copper, virtually all of which is caused by passive leaching of the copper from antifouling coatings and periodic hull cleaning by divers, state and federal officials say.

“It’s a problem that’s not going to go away,” Gale Filter, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, told the Union-Tribune.

On the other hand, Hopewell believes that EPA’s Biotic Ligand Model may well show that the copper threat to waters has been overstated. BLM is a relatively recent method of calculating metal toxicity using 10 water chemistry parameters.

BLM “could fundamentally change how we define copper-impaired waters,” Hopewell said.

Filter said he was disappointed that the legislation stalled, but added: “[Y]ou have to make sure what you have is the best science that’s available. It’s due diligence.”


Tagged categories: American Coatings Association (ACA); Antifoulants; Coatings manufacturers; Copper; Laws and litigation; Marine; Marine Coatings

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