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August 6, 2003 3:51 PM
Chris Davies MEP (North West Region)

Chris Davies MEP

The seas off the North West will be safer for fish, mammals and other sea life, thanks to a new EU law on ship paints.

The legislation prevents any future applications of toxic anti-fouling paints to ships and marine platforms registered in or operated by EU member states.

Anti-fouling paints are used to coat the bottom of ships to prevent sea life such as algae and barnacles attaching to the hull and slowing the vessel. Although the use of these paints has declined, they are still used by a significant number of large vessels.

One of the most effective anti-fouling paints contains the chemical TBT, which leaches from the paint into the marine environment. Even at very low levels it can accumulate in fish, sea birds and marine mammals where it can cause severe damage to reproductive and immune systems.

TBT accumulates in sediment, particularly in areas with many ship movements like harbours and ports. Marine mammals around the UK that have been contaminated with organotin include grey seals, harbour porpoises and even whales that swim in the Irish Sea.

WWF have welcomed the lead taken by the EU on this issue and hope that these measures will soon be extended worldwide.

North West MEP Chris Davies is a member of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament and hopes the law will significantly reduce TBT levels.

He said: "Organotin compounds such as TBT are considered to be amongst the most toxic chemicals ever released into the marine environment. Removing these from our seas will be beneficial for sea life and could even have a positive impact on public health."

It is likely that contamination is being passed on to humans eating fish and other seafood. Toxins have been found in the muscle and liver of most fish species and these could have a detrimental effect on our hormone and immune systems.

While a partial ban on the use of organotin in smaller vessels has reduced levels of organotin, their continued use on larger ships, and the fact that the compounds can remain in the sea for a considerable period of time, means that these chemicals are still present at unacceptably high levels within the marine environment.

Environmentally friendly alternatives to organotin anti-fouling paints include copper-bottomed ships and TBT-free coatings.

From 2008 all ships will have to remove or seal any remaining organotin coatings.