Introducing the Boat Paint Alternatives Assessment

In 2011, the Washington State Legislature passed legislation (Chapter 70.300 RCW, Recreational Water Vessels-Antifouling Paints) requiring the phase out of copper-based anti-fouling paints on recreational vessels less than 65 feet in length by 2020.

To meet this legislative requirement, Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is working with Northwest Green Chemistry to identify and evaluate alternatives to copper anti-fouling boat paints.  Alternatives may include both biocidal antifouling and foul release paints, as well as innovative non-paint non-biocide technologies.

What is anti-fouling boat paint?

Fouling on a Ship hull. Image by graham_B.

Fouling on a Ship hull. Image by graham_B.

Antifouling boat paint prevents the growth of marine organisms, like barnacles and algae, on the bottom of boats. When fouling does occur, it can substantially reduce fuel efficiency, speed, and maneuverability. The solution to this problem is not necessary a paint, however. There are three main categories of technologies that we are researching:

  • Biocidal antifouling boat paint:  These paints contain an active ingredient, such as copper, zinc, or ECONEA, that is a biocide.
  • Foul release boat paint:  These paints function by creating a surface that is incompatible with fouling, such as a super-slick surface.
  • Alternative technology:  This category covers any method of maintaining a hull free of fouling, including technologies that are not paint-based, such as ultrasound systems

What are the concerns for copper in harbors?

Copper negatively impacts many forms of aquatic life.  In 2007, an Ecology study found high levels of copper in two Puget Sound marinas – most of it coming from antifouling paints used to prevent marine life from attaching or growing on boat hulls.  Even low levels of copper interfere with a salmon’s sense of smell, which reduces its ability to avoid predators and find its way back to their birthplace to spawn and find mates.  Copper also adversely impacts the ability of fish eggs and fry to develop normally.   

Zinc pyrithione may be the next leading biocide used in antifouling boat paints.

Salmon fisheries are a major source of sustenance and recreation in Washington. The National Marine Manufacturers Association reports that recreational boating accounts for $3.18 billion of economic activity in Washington each year and supports over 17,256 jobs in the state.  Fishing and boating also support local communities that depend on recreational tourism.  

Why do we need an alternatives assessment?

Addressing the presence of copper in antifouling boat paints protects the environment, the fishing industry and recreational tourism. It is important to avoid regrettable substitutions and to ensure that the alternative technologies used to prevent hull fouling are safer for all.  Problems with antifouling paints are not new. For many years, paints containing mercury or tributyltin were used to prevent fouling. When concerns arose in the 1970’s about the environmental effects of tributyltin, copper became the preferred alternative.  Now, concerns have arisen about the environmental effects of copper.  By systemically and scientifically looking at the current and emerging alternatives to copper, NGC's goal is to identify preferred alternatives that stand the test of time.

NGC will be following the Washington Alternatives Assessment guide, based on IC2 Alternatives Assessment method, using a hybrid approach that prioritizes considering the hazards of the potential alternatives, but also considers exposure, cost, availability, performance, and more.  The criteria will be informed by a Steering Committee of key stakeholders representing diverse interests, including boatyard operators, boat paint manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, recreational boat owners, and more. 

Our Approach:  Engaging Experts and Other Stakeholders

The NGC Team has expertise in science, engineering and multi-stakeholder facilitation. However, we understand that no amount of expertise can replace the perspectives and experience of diverse stakeholders. That is why we have created a multi-stakeholder Steering Committee to guide selection guide development and to provide feedback as a vital part of the alternatives assessment process. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on this project and other NGC news and events.

Phase 1: Product Selection Guide for Alternatives to Copper-based Antifouling Paints:   

In Phase 1 of the AA work, Northwest Green Chemistry created version 0.0 of the Alternatives to Copper-based Antifouling Boat Paint Selection Guide that clearly and visually presents information on specific products, how they work, hull compatibility, longevity, cost, performance and more.  Alternatives listed in the guide were selected with assistance from the Clean Boating Foundation and Northwest Marine Trade Association

Phase 2:  Expanding Product Coverage and Assessing Human and Environmental Health Impacts

In Phase 2, NGC is expanding the selection guide to include additional alternatives that are currently on the market and delving deeply into the human and environmental health and safety attributes of the various formulations and technologies. The goal is to ensure that the alternatives to copper based products are inherently safer to both human health and the environment. 

NGC is also researching and evaluating promising emerging technologies not yet on the market and seeking commercialization.