WWF Wildlife campaigners warned yesterday that tributyltin (TBT) used in antifouling paint on boats and ships is spreading pollution from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
During the '60s
the chemical industry developed efficacious
anti-fouling paints using metallic compounds, in particular the
organotin compounds tributyltin (TBT) and triphenyltin (TPT). These
surface coatings are designed to prevent the attachment of algae,
molluscs and other organisms which slow down vessel speeds.
chemicals are highly toxic for sealife (larvae, mussels, oysters and
fish). These compounds slowly "leach" into the sea water, killing
barnacles and other marine life that have attached to the ship. Numerous studies have shown that these compounds persist in the water, killing
sealife, harming the environment and entering the food chain.
is toxic in the marine environment at extremely low concentrations and
has been shown to interfere with the biological processes in a diverse
range of species. It has been found to bioaccumulate in whales and
other sea mammals and disrupt the endocrine system of a range of
invertebrates leading to sterility and death. For this reason,
they have been banned in many European countries, while several
Community directives (Directive 76/769/EEC and the successive
amendments thereto) provide for regular monitoring of organotin
compound levels.The WWF study:
The WWF said member countries of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), including the UK, are still allowing the toxin tributyltin (TBT) to contaminate wildlife and enter the food chain.
The environmental group is calling on member countries to ratify their own five-year-old legislation to bring an end to the pollution. The WWF is to submit a paper tomorrow to a meeting of the IMO on the problem of TBT pollution.
Its research shows the impact on mussels, oysters, clams, abalone and gastropods as well as high contamination of a range of other marine animals such as skipjack tuna and harbour porpoises.
Dr Simon Walmsley, head of WWF-UK's marine programme, said: "This is a scandal the world should be ashamed of. "Forty years after TBT's negative impacts were first identified and five years after the legislation to ban it was agreed, TBT is still used indiscriminately, polluting global marine life and our food chain." Only 17 out of 166 member countries of the IMO have ratified the legislation.
However, the majority of the shipping industry supports a ban, with only unscrupulous operators still using it. The leading paint companies have not produced TBT since 2003 and market commercially viable alternatives instead.
Dr Walmsley added: "Generally the shipping and paint industries support the legislation being ratified. Delegates at the IMO whose countries have not signed up - including the UK - should be ashamed. "This is the most toxic chemical ever deliberately released into the marine environment and there is no excuse for doing it."
The negative impacts of TBT were first suspected in the late 1960s. It has been shown to change the sex of dog whelks, has caused oyster crops failures in France and has closed shellfish farms.
The WWF said it contaminates wildlife in the open ocean as well as in coastal waters.
After 2008, EU legislation will ban the use of TBT on EU-flagged vessels and any ship painted with it will be refused entry to EU ports. WWF said the size of the EU market meant this would be enough to hamper any shipping company's trade.
Anyhow, because of the great stability of TBT, it will probably stay in the environment for a while even after total banning. Related studies (1997-2006):
The situation in the environment after the partial ban of TBT
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Food Chem., 97/4 (2006) 637-643. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2005.03.049 Related information WWF: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) WWF's Position Papers on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (DOC: 29.0 KB EVISA info: Prohibition of organotin compounds on ships Related News SeparationNow, January 14, 2004: Tuna is attuned to tin EVISA News, Novemver 11, 2004: Source for butyltin compounds in wine EVISA News, March 29, 2005: Organotins and other toxic chemicals found in household dust across U.S. WWF, October 10, 2006: Time to ban toxic boat paint pollution
last time modified: October 11, 2006