News & Views

COPPER BOTTOM PAINT: Banned in Washington State

Applying bottom paint

I hate to say I told you so… but I did. In the next few years many people with boats in the state of Washington are going to have to get as interested in copper-free bottom paint as I am. I've been trying out copper-free paint on my boat Lunacy because she has an aluminum hull, and when I blogged about it I predicted copper paint would be regulated in the future.

Well, the future is now. Last week Washington's Gov. Chris Gregoire put her Hancock on legislation prohibiting the sale of new boats treated with copper-based bottom paint as of January 2018. No paints containing more than 0.5 percent copper can be used on old or new boats starting in 2020. The law, which imposes fines of up to $10,000 for violations, applies only to recreational vessels up to 65 feet in length.

Reportedly the legislation was originally proposed by the Northwest Marine Trade Association to head off the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an environmental group that threatened to sue local boatyards over purported violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Some in Washington state have hailed the ban as an important step forward in environmental regulation. Others are asserting it is unfair to target recreational vessels and that the ban will do little to lower copper levels in local waterways. Members of the state’s active wooden-boat community, meanwhile, are complaining that copper-free paints do not protect against the worms that like to eat their boats.

You can get a good read on the reaction yourself by reading the comments after these stories here and here. You'll note much of the commentary is surprisingly well informed.

A similar bill, SB 623, which would ban the use of copper paint on new boats by 2015 and on other boats by 2019, is currently being considered in California. You can read Washington’s new law yourself and check out the legislative history at this link here. You'll note that support for the bill, which took just one shot to pass, was pretty bipartisan.

I might feel differently if I wasn't already living in a copper-free universe myself, but I basically support this sort of legislation. No, it's not fair to just target recreational boats, and I'm sure this won't have much immediate effect on copper levels in the water. But it's hard to impose unilateral bans on paints used on commercial vessels at the state level (unless you don't mind driving all commercial traffic away from your state) and regulation has to start somewhere. I am confident such bans will eventually apply to everyone everywhere, as is increasingly the case with tin-based paint.

There are alternatives to copper. One of them being ultrasonic antifouling systems. One thing I'm looking very forward to this spring is NOT working on my bottom. Just splash the boat, flick a switch on my main panel, and I'm good to go.

 

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