Eight months after backing off a plan to ban copper antifouling paint on recreational boats, California authorities are dipping a toe back into those regulatory waters.
But they're not dipping very deep.
Retreating a good distance from the unpopular SB 623, which would have phased out copper in recreational vessels, the legislature is taking a new tack.
AB 425, introduced Feb. 15 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-78), proposes that the state Department of Pesticide Regulation evaluate by Feb. 1, 2014, whether copper-based antifouling paint should be registered as a pesticide and, if so, make recommendations on how to protect aquatic environments from the effects of exposure.
As part of that evaluation, the department will determine a leach rate for copper-based antifouling paint used on recreational vessels.
Sinking a Ban
The American Coatings Association, which represents manufacturers, is watching the new measure closely.
ACA was instrumental in helping to kill the earlier bill by Sen. Christine Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat, that would have prohibited the use of copper-based paint on recreational boats after 2018.
That measure had easily passed the state Senate in June 2011, just after a similar measure became law in Washington State.
However, the bill ran aground in the Assembly under pressure from ACA's Antifouling Workgroup and the California Paint Council.
The coating makers opposed several provisions, including one that would have required manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative when replacing copper in antifouling paint, even though those alternatives were not defined—and, coating makers say, are not as effective as copper-containing coatings in fightig fouling.
Finally, although that proposal was relatively limited in scope, ACA feared that it would set a precedent for other marine coatings in the future.
Still, inaction is not an option, and the issue was certain to return to resurface.
Boating Environmental Forum
Field research shows 12 months of growth on copper antifouling paint in San Diego Bay. Coating makers say copper is still the best material to fight fouling.
Many groups have targeted the use of copper in antifouling paints as contributors to adverse water conditions in certain California marinas. In the Port of San Diego, all eight marina basins have been found to have an overload of copper.
The state has ordered at least one, Shelter Island Yacht Basin, to reduce its copper loading by 76 percent by the year 2028.
The Pesticide Approach
Existing California law requires pesticide manufacturers, importers and many dealers to obtain a certificate of registration from the Department of Pesticide Regulation before offering the pesticide for sale.
In March 2011, members of ACA's Antifouling Workgroup and other affected registrants received a data request from the pesticide agency.
“Clarification of Leach Rate Determination, Notice of Additional Data Requirements and Meeting Regarding the Reevaluation of Copper Based Anti-fouling Paint Pesticides” sought, among other things, "a protocol to accurately determine the impact underwater hull cleaning has on overall copper release from antifouling paint," according to ACA.
In June 2012, the Antifouling Workgroup responded with the “In Water Hull Cleaning and Passive Leaching Study Protocol” and coordinated funding for the study among copper suppliers and copper-based antifouling registrants in California.
Leaching vs. Fouling
"The purpose of this study is to ascertain the effect of underwater hull cleaning methods on various types of anti-fouling paints and to quantify the amount of copper that enters the water column from passive leaching," ACA said.
The study will test the most contemporary antifouling paints used in Shelter Island Yacht basin, ACA said. Those will include ablative coatings, which coating makers say were not properly addressed in prior studies.
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Marine Invasions Research Lab
Scripps Institution of Oceanography is working with ACA on a study of antifouling paints in the Shelter Island Yacht basin in San Diego. Results are due in the spring. Here, an inspector examines a fouled ship in San Francisco.
ACA says it has contracted with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, a subgroup of the U.S. Navy, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography and appointed a study overseer to visit the site and ensure adherence to the protocol.
The study began Aug. 13, 2012, and a final report is expected this spring. The report will be published in the Journal of Biofouling and the results shared with DPR "to inform the development of mitigation strategies," ACA reports.
What's at Stake
Much is riding on California's decisions on copper antifoulings—and the effects will be felt far outside that state's borders, the manufacturers say.
"The results of the study and the mitigation strategies developed by DPR will not just determine the course for anti-fouling coatings in California, but will have global implications," ACA contends.
Contact ACA’s John Hopewell or Marie Hobson for more information.