RBOC Calls for EPA to Adopt New Copper Standards

Byline: Ambrosia Brody

RBOC Calls for EPA to Adopt New Copper Standards

SACRAMENTO — The boater advocacy group Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) has issued a “Call to Arms,” asking boaters to contact their elected representatives in the California Senate and Assembly. The organization seeks legislators’ support for EPA adoption of new standards for dissolved copper in saltwater — a move that could allow continued safe use of copper-based hull paints on recreational boats.

RBOC hopes the U.S. EPA Office of Water will be convinced to complete its review of the Copper Marine Biotic Ligand Model (BLM) for metals in saltwater, as soon as possible. The RBOC’s “Call to Arms” comes after the U.S. EPA announced that the BLM is on its “priority list” for completion for next year.

“We are communicating to the water agencies, ‘yes, we absolutely want a BLM,’” said Cleve Hardaker, immediate past president of RBOC. “We want to make sure saltwater boaters (also) contact the regional water board (the Southern California Regional Water Quality Control Board) and the state water board, and let them know that we need this.”

The Southern California Regional Water Quality Control Board has already proposed a plan to enact Total Maximum Daily Load restrictions on copper levels in Newport Bay. Enacting TMDL limitations would have a profound effect on boaters, RBOC officials warned earlier this year.

“The standard currently used by the regional water board is based on studies done using distilled water, not salt water,” explained Karen Rhyne, South region vice president of RBOC. “The science is clear that copper has a very different reaction in salt water — and the toxicity levels are vastly different.”

The limit for the amount of suspended copper allowed in the water has been set statewide at 3.1 micrograms per liter, but recent research in San Diego and elsewhere has indicated that the level may be set too low. A completed study in San Diego Bay found that copper levels above the 3.1 microgram threshold were not resulting in any harm to sensitive bay plant and animal species.

In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked states to develop state-specific standards — however, California and several other states did not comply. As a result, the EPA set the standard for California. Now, RBOC is asking the state board to approve a Biotic Ligand Model  (BLM) for saltwater, which is currently under final review by the agency.

The BLM is a formula that lets harbors come up with a number specific to the water body, taking into account PH and carbon levels, as well as other elements. EPA’s approval of the BLM will provide the Regional Water Quality Control Board with a science-based approach to retest water bodies, using that model.

If adopted by the U.S. EPA, the model will “allow for more accurate marine and estuarine water quality criteria to be developed to protect the environment, and to create more scientifically defensible regulatory actions, rather than the arbitrary one-size-fits all number that is currently used,” RBOC stated in its Call to Arms.

According to a statement from RBOC, the BLM uses the latest science to calculate water quality criteria for copper, on the basis of water quality conditions at a specific water body/site.

The issue is of concern to boaters who use copper-based antifouling hull paints. The applications have been the industry standard since the 1980s, when tributyltin (TBT) was banned as an antifouling paint ingredient. Copper-based paints are designed to leach copper to prevent algae and barnacle growth on boat bottoms. Copper is further released during hull cleanings, which researchers said can lead to copper levels that inhibit marine species growth in harbors

Although several non-copper-based hull paints are on the market, the selection of available products is minimal when compared to copper-based coatings. And the application is more costly, Hardaker said.

“There is no other product that can replace copper that is effective, affordable and available,” Hardaker said. “There are other metal-based antifouling paints that are more or less effective, but they are very expensive, compared to copper.

Products must be approved by the Department of Pesticide Regulation before being released to consumers.

If boaters were to be deprived of copper-based paints, the cost of boating would be increase to a level that would put it out of reach for many people, he added. “We don’t want to see that happen.”

Hardaker estimates it will be more than a year before the BLM is released. However, over that year, RBOC “wants to make sure that the water agencies in California understand that boaters want them to use this model to evaluate waters for toxicity — particularly toxicity for copper.”

To get a copy of the letter to send to your legislator, visit rboc.org.


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