Paint in bay toxic

Environmental group encourages boaters to change paint because it says copper kills creatures in Newport Bay.

May 02, 2008|By Alan Blank and Brianna Bailey

The same type of paint Newport boat owners have used for decades to protect their vessels from barnacles and algae could be deadly to some of the fragile organisms that live in Newport Bay, prompting a local environmental group to take action.

Orange County Coastkeeper is teaming up with Newport Beach officials and a private boating company to encourage boaters to switch to more environmentally friendly paint. The majority of the program, which will include education, financial incentives, city policy changes and water monitoring, will be paid for by a $260,400 grant funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. But some locals in the boat business are afraid they’re going to pay the real price.

“It’s just going to be another cost for the boat owner. We’ll have to redo our bottoms more often,” said Len Bose, a Newport Beach yacht salesman. “It already costs $1,800 every year and a half to repaint a 35-foot boat. Now we’ll be lucky to get eight months before we have to redo them.”


Copper paint is popular among boat owners because the toxicity weakens and kills organisms that latch onto the bottoms of their boats, allowing them to clean and repaint their vessels less often.

One local boat paint dealer, who preferred to go unnamed, thought doing away with copper was environmentally beneficial, but he’s frustrated that paint chemicals are constantly being banned.

“Going to some other product is probably a move in the right direction. We used copper, mercury, arsenic, but they’ve all disappeared over the years as scientists figured out that they’re bad for the environment,” he said.

The goal of the program is to have 50% to 80% of the boaters at Balboa Yacht Basin Marina switch to nontoxic bottom paint.

More than 50,000 pounds of copper from boat paint leaches into Newport Bay each year, according to the EPA. A recent Orange County Coastkeeper study found much of the copper from bottom paint settles into sediment at the bottom of the bay rather than washing out of the water with the tide. The copper can be toxic to some of the tiny creatures that live at the bottom of the bay, such as mussels and clams. Coastkeeper water and sediment tests in the area found concentrations of copper in the bay that exceeded state guidelines.

Some cities, like San Diego, have opted to make laws banning copper paint, but Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs with Coastkeeper, said such stern actions might not be necessary if the incentives offered by the new program are enough to get people to change on their own.

“We’re trying to decide if we really need a regulation or if we offer enough incentives people will change by themselves?” Hiemstra said.

Trace Marine, a company that specializes in ecologically conscious boat supplies and services, will help Coastkeeper get the boats repainted. A company spokesman said Trace Marine has joined the project because it’s the right thing to do, and the company will only see minor profits from the operation.

ALAN BLANK may be reached at (714) 966-4623 or at BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at

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