If you're boating in marine waters, you can play an important role in protecting water quality in Washington. It starts with changing the paint on the bottom of your boat. Copper, a common ingredient in many of these paints, is highly toxic to salmon and aquatic life.
Back in 2007, a study found high levels of copper in Washington marinas – most of it coming from antifouling paints. That led the Legislature to pass a law phasing out the use of copper-based bottom paints beginning in 2018.
Under the law:
- Jan. 1, 2018 – Sale of new recreational vessels with copper antifouling paint banned
- Jan. 1, 2020 – Sale and application of antifouling paint containing more than 0.5% copper for recreational vessels banned
Copper is especially harmful to young salmon. Salmon fisheries are a major source of sustenance and recreation in Washington. The Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that fishing accounts for $2.5 billion of revenue every year, and supports over 28,000 jobs in the state. Fishing and boating also support local communities depending on recreational tourism.
Antifouling paints are not new. For many years, tributyltin-based paints were the standard. When concerns arose about the environmental effects of tributyltin, copper became the preferred alternative. Now we're finding copper is also harmful to aquatic life.
Ecology and Northwest Green Chemistry are partnering together to find safer alternatives for copper boat paints. Our goal is to find effective products that won't turn out to be another regrettable substitution – a replacement of toxic chemical with chemical of equal or greater toxicity – like copper was for tributyltin.
Many alternatives to copper-based paints are already on the market. Northwest Green Chemistry is working with boaters to develop a scorecard of paints and costs to help boaters select coatings.
You can get ahead of the copper phase out and help protect aquatic life by switching to a non-biocide boat paint now. When you clean your boat, use safer cleaning products and don't clean your boat while it's in the water.
To learn about other ways you can help, visit Ecology's clean and green boating page.