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TBI: The Debate Rages

Environmental pressures on shipping companies to toe the "green" line have been mounting for years, with new rules and regulations created regularly governing engine emissions, waste handling and other aspects of ship operations. While no one will debate that maintaining the quality of the environment is priceless, most will contend that the number and level of mandates has started to strain the bottom line.

As the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was preparing to meet at the beginning of November to discuss the fate of TBT-based paints, a group representing the economic and scientific communities recently met in Washington, D.C. to present information which reportedly forecasts dire economic consequences resulting from a "premature ban of Tributylin (TBT)-based antifouling paints." TBT has been used as an effective antifouling paint since the early 1970s on ship's hulls to effectively check the growth of tubeworms, algae and barnacles. The superior anti-fouling protection afforded ships is directly relevant to the healthy bottom line of the companies which operate them, as clean hulls allow ships to operate more fuel efficiently, and require less frequent regular maintenance. With the operational aspects serving the role of silver lining, TBT's reported effects on the environment have long filled the role as the dark cloud.

TBT-based paints are applied to ship bottoms and protect them from fouling. The TBT (tin is the primary active ingredient) in the paint slowly releases into the aquatic environment to prevent attachment of aquatic organisms. In the mid 1980s, researchers suggested that the use of TBT in antifouling paints was adversely affecting some aquatic organisms, namely oysters and snails.

This led to environmental regulations to limit the usage, and in some cases, the release rate, of antifoulant paints containing TBT. The U.S. followed suit in 1988, passing the Organotin Antifouling Paint Control Act, restricting the use of TBT-containing paints to ships larger than 25 m and those with aluminum hulls.

Last month, the Organotin Environmental Program (ORTEP) Association hosted an event which delivered data which shows that estimated annual cost to the world fleet to switch from TBT-based paints to currently available tinfree products would range from $500 million to $1 billion. The cost analysis was conducted by Princeton Economic Research Inc. "A decision to prematurely ban TBT-based paints would essentially cripple the U.S. shipbuilding industry by locking it out from the commercial business market," said Frank Losey, spokesperson for the American Shipbuilding Association. According to an ORTEP statement, existing TBT alternatives exceed emission limits for volatile organic compounds (VOC), effectively eliminating commercial application of antifouling paints in U.S. shipyards.

At the same time, findings from Parametric Inc. — based on more than 10 years of monitoring conducted by the company and information from the U.S. Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — reportedly show that regulations currently geared to reducing TBT levels are working. Editor's Note: The preceding was supplied by the Organotin Environmental Program (ORTEP). The Consortium of Tributylin Manufacturers was formed in the late 1980's in response to the EPA's requirement for long-term monitoring of TBT levels. The Consortium is a member of ORTEP.

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