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WWF Battles Marine Pollution from Anti-fouling Paint

Published on 2002-03-27. Author : SpecialChem

In the run up to the International Maritime Organization's Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting next week, WWF, (World Wildlife Fund) the conservation organization, today launched a new project in Bremen, Germany, to test non-toxic alternatives to tributyltin (TBT) based anti-fouling paints on big ship hulls.

Numerous studies have already provided scientific evidence of TBT pollution in the world's oceans. Marine life, including commercial fish species, are being contaminated. However, despite its high toxicity, TBT is still used in anti-fouling paints. Anti-fouling paints are applied to ship hulls to stop marine creatures clinging to them, causing lower speed and engine stress, especially in larger craft. The TBT from the paint is adsorbed by surrounding sea water, and accumulates in sediment around harbours and along shipping lanes

WWF's project consists of applying biocide-free paints, both as full hull coatings and as a partial coating in strips on 25 different vessels. These include container, cruise and research ships operating in the North, Baltic and Mediterranean seas, besides the Atlantic Ocean. The project is partly funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundestiftung Umwelt), and has the co-operation of ship owners, shipping companies and paint manufacturers.

"We need efficient ecologically sound alternatives, to ensure that TBT and other harmful biocides are not used by the world's shipping fleets," said Dr Georg Schwede, chief executive of WWF-Germany. "TBT is a known hormone disruptor. High levels of this chemical have been found in many fish species, which could threaten human health." The alternative paints will be tested under normal sea-going conditions. Different strips and coatings will be scientifically analyzed and compared. WWF feels this practical approach will increase chances of broad acceptance of biocide-free paint.

The biocide-free paints tested during this project protect ships from fouling by physical means. Most are "non-stick" coatings providing a smooth surface that prevents adhesion. An alternative method uses self-polishing coatings. A non-toxic formula dissolves in the aquatic environment and clinging fouling organisms are removed as the coating dissolves. Another product imitates the skin of seals. Very short, dense fibers are set in motion by the surrounding water, creating a self-cleaning effect. This prevents organisms attaching themselves.

"This project could be a milestone for the development of much needed non-toxic, anti-fouling coatings and their implementation," added Fritz Brickwedde, General Secretary of the German Federal Environmental Foundation.

In 1989, TBT was banned within the European Union on vessels smaller than 25 meters in length. Most recreational craft, in particular yachts, were affected. In 1998, the International Maritime Organization's Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed a draft resolution on a voluntary ban on the application of TBT paint on the hulls of ships by 2003.


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