Editor’s note: this story was updated May 4, 2011 from an earlier version.
Washington is now the first state in the nation to ban copper-based bottom paint on recreational boats.
Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday signed into a law a bill prohibiting the use of the paints on most recreational boats. Under the law, no new boats with copper-based bottom paint can be sold in Washington state after Jan. 1, 2018, and no paint with more than 0.5 percent copper can be used on recreation boats as of 2020. The law applies only to recreational boats 65 feet and under.
The law will be enforced by the state Department of Ecology, with fines of up to $10,000 for violations.
Copper-based paints have long been recreational boaters’ main weapon in preventing marine growth on the bottom of vessels. But the metal can have a detrimental effect on fish and other wildlife, particularly salmon, even at small doses.
The law puts Washington out front of a growing movement to reduce the amount of copper released into the water from boats. And while numerous paint manufacturers are offering products containing little or no copper, none have yet gained widespread acceptance.
Some in the maritime community have lauded the Northwest Marine Trade Association NMTA) for putting forth the bill. But others are critical, saying the bill should apply to all recreational boats, not just those 65 feet and under, as well as commercial boats. And some wooden boat owners say the copper-free alternatives currently available cannot protect their vessels from worms and other burrowing pests.
The NMTA has said it exempted commercial boats from the bill since its focus is on recreational boats, and exempted boats larger than 65 feet since they are more likely to cruise in warm waters, where copper-free paints may be less effective in preventing bottom growth.
The bill was prompted in part by a threat by environmental watchdog group Puget Soundkeeper Alliance in December 2009 to sue five boatyards for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The legal action spurred the NMTA, which had previously worked closely with PSA, to seek proactive measures to help reduce the level of copper and other water-borne pollutants flowing from boatyards — and ideally, discourage additional legal action by PSA.