NEWS FEATURE - Antifoul Politics
With mounting environmental pressure to ban copper-based antifouling paints, boat owners could legitimately ask what impact this will have on keeping marine growth in check. MATTHEW JONES reports
There is a growing sense of unease within the international recreational boating community concerning the movements from environmental protection agencies to prohibit copper-based antifouling paints. This stems in part from worrying new legislation that will ban the sale of any new recreational vessel with copper-based antifouling after January 1 next year in Washington State, USA. The State has further legislated that no vessel, new or old, may be sold after January 1, 2018, if it has copper-based antifouling.
In effect, vessel owners will be required to strip their boats of copper-based antifouling or permanently seal their craft
before putting it on the market. Hence the big questions: What alternative antifoul technologies are out there? Are they effective? How much will they cost? The short answer, according to one leading manufacturer of copper-based antifouling, is that chemists are hard at work, but have yet to match the effectiveness of copper as a marine biocide.
Most antifouls as we currently know them are made of a binder (coloured paint) and a biocide (chemical substance that kills marine growth). Previously, the most effective biocide was Tributylin (TBT), due to its high toxicity to marine life. However, once the true impact of its toxic effects on the marine environment became known, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) imposed a worldwide ban on its use, which came into full effect in September 2008.
Cuprous oxide (Cu2O) — aka copper — is currently the most commonly used biocide in antifoul paints, but it is now under the international environmental spotlight, too, with Washington and California leading the charge.
In May last year, Washington State put the legislative wheels in motion, which will eventually see any paint containing more than 0.5 per cent copper completely banned from January 1, 2020. Despite being seven years in the future, it is nonetheless worrying when you consider that some of our most effective antifoul paints in use today contain as much as 70 per cent copper.
California looks set to follow suit but concerns raised over the effectiveness of current alternatives to copper have seen the enactment of parliamentary bill SB 623 (which was set to ban the use of copper-based antifoul paints on recreational boats) put on hold until 2013. The Netherlands, Sweden and some locations in Denmark have also banned or restricted the use of copper in antifoul paints.
WHAT’S BEING DONE COMMERCIALLY?
Commercial expectations are that copper is likely to be banned from use in antifoul sometime around 2022, but unless a viable alternative is found, the risk of spreading unwanted marine organisms could outweigh any benefits.
Garth Moran, Altex Coatings technical services manager, says there are various antifouling developments out there and some of these include lower levels of cuprous oxide and/or different biocide compounds, such as cuprous thiocyanate. The latter is presently used in a variety of alloy-safe antifoul paints, including Altex’s own Vivid, which Moran says performs very closely to Altex No.5 cuprous oxide antifoul.
There are other compounds known to all major paint companies, but Moran says that few options exist to combat marine growth once biocidal compounds are removed from antifoul.
"There is foul release and surface technology, which provide a smooth surface so fouling can’t stick, and ultra-sonics, which work to a certain extent, but the effectiveness of these types of technology hasn’t quite got there yet," said Moran.
"It’s all very well and wonderful to try and eliminate cuprous oxide swimming around in the ocean but if you don’t have an antifouling product that works effectively, we’re going to have fouling accumulating on boats — and not just from local material but also from overseas," he continues.
So while research into biocide-free antifoul solutions continues, there are some major hurdles that need to be overcome. "There are definitely means and ways out there, but it’s a case of ensuring that these are effective and affordable, which I believe is going to be a considerable problem," adds Moran.
Rather than set an arbitrary cut-off date for copper-based solutions, it is Moran’s opinion that it would be better for all involved if chemists were given adequate time to develop effective and affordable copper-free alternatives. "The technology required to develop an effective alternative requires considerable investment and those costs will have to be recovered, so antifoul prices will almost definitely have to increase," he adds.
DOING OUR BIT
As recreational boaties, we can play our part in safeguarding our marine environment by following best-practice antifouling guidelines. Blokes can be notorious for ignoring instructions, but selecting the right antifoul for your boat and local conditions are key to achieving maximum life from your antifouling.
Largely gone are the days when we could tie-up alongside a tidal grid and sand-off our old antifoul with little care or thought for the environment. Nowadays, you’ll struggle to find a marina that will even permit dry sanding. And while DIY is still very much the way for a lot of boaters, marina and boatyard operators are under intense scrutiny to ensure they comply with environmental laws — any waste from the cleaning or removal of antifoul paints must be contained and disposed of properly.
Scrubbing antifoul in the water is another big problem for marina operators and is coming under increasing scrutiny "One of our main concerns as marina operators is boaties jumping over the side and scrubbing their ablative antifoul, releasing biocides and heavy metals into water," one told Trade-a-Boat.
"This is where best management practices come into play. You can now buy hollow-ended scrapers, which attach to your vacuum cleaner. If we can deal with 95 per cent of contaminants before they get to the discharge point then the required filtration of runoff and the cost of treatment is much less.
"Education is the key. Sure, you may have done things the same way for the last 30 years, but this is no way to look after the environment," he added.
Is part of the problem caused by boaties selecting the wrong type of antifoul? Moran thinks so. "If you’ve got a racing yacht that’s being scrubbed once or twice a week before racing, you’re going to require a different type of antifoul to someone who takes their boat out once a month," he says. "Selecting the right antifoul minimises the amount of cuprous oxide that’s going to waste and maximises the amount of antifouling that’s appropriate for the boat itself."
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
While the jury is out on which way authorities might go with antifoul, it appears at face value that they are taking a common-sense approach and will base any changes on science rather than persuasive environmental pressure.
What is clear, though, is that copper is still our primary defence against fouling and the spread of marine organisms.
Top photo: Boatyards like this have proper containment for toxic antifoul runoff, but the days of DIY careening on piles are numbered.
Above and below: Two current market leaders from Pettit. Hydrocoat (above), is water based so has a reduced environmental impact from the get go.
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 432, Oct-Nov 2012. Photos: Steve Raea.
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