Copper Based Antifouling Paint Ban Still in Limbo
The ban on the use of copper based antifouling paint on recreational vessels less than 65 feet was passed by the Washington State Legislature in 2011. Copper is an effective biocide that works well in marine anti-fouling paints. It is licensed as a pesticide Federally and in all states. However, the Federal EPA has determined that it can be toxic to sensitive marine organisms at levels as low as 3.1 parts per billion. The EPA also recommends that site specific studies be done to determine which organisms, if any, are harmed and at what levels of dissolved copper that harm occurs.
For example, in 2007 a water effects ratio study was conducted in San Francisco Bay. The outcome showed that no organisms were impacted up to a level of 8.4 parts per billion. All marinas in the bay showed copper levels below that threshold. This despite the fact that copper levels did tend to be higher near marinas because of the numbers of painted hulls concentrated there.
Copper, the most common toxic chemical that antifouling paints release into the water, has been determined to be a toxic hazard to sea life and especially to salmon. However, it is also quite effective at retarding the growth of marine bio organisms that grow on boat bottoms and negatively affect performance and the preservation of boats.
As part of the law, the WA State Department of Ecology agreed to study antifouling paints and how they affect marine organisms and water quality. Reviews of science on antifouling paints and their hazards, showed that non-copper antifouling ingredients might be more environmentally harmful than copper. As a result, the law phasing out copper paints was postponed.
Another problem with implementing the law is that no feasible, reasonable and readily available alternative is on the market for boat owners to use. Regardless of three in depth studies supplied to the Legislature, non-copper based bottom paint solutions have not met the feasible, reasonable and readily available criteria so the ban continues to be postponed.
The most recent report was released by the Department of Ecology in November and according to their website, there is no clear understanding yet of what meets the criteria. The Department states that if a safer alternative meeting the above criteria is found by June 30, 2024, then the law will restrict the use of most copper-based antifouling paints beginning January 1, 2026. Wooden boats are exempt as are commercial vessels, military including the US Coast Guard and recreational vessels over 65 feet.
If no safer and effective alternatives are found by June 30, 2024, the ban will not take effect. The Department will then continue to study scientific literature and submit a new report by June, 2029. Meanwhile the Department is conducting testing on a variety of antifouling paints in conjunction with Washington State University.
In the meantime, the Department has opened a public comment period regarding the latest report just released – “Antifouling Paints in Washington State: Third Report to the Legislature” and can be accessed on the Washington State Department of Ecology website along with an online form for comments or the public may email Iris Deng at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for comments is January 17, 2024 at 11:59 pm.