Toxic Ingredient in Ship Paint Pollutes Mediterranean Sea

Dec. 28, 2000

Paint used to protect ships from algae and barnacle growth is polluting the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece, according to research commissioned by the environmental group Greenpeace.

High levels of toxic tributyl tin (TBT) have been found in sediments taken from Piraeus and Thessaloniki harbors and the sea close to popular swimming beaches around Salamina island.

TBT can cause headaches, vertigo, eye irritation, psycho-neurological disturbance, vomiting, urine retention and skin burns in humans. In marine shellfish, it disrupts the immune and endocrine systems, leading to the development of male sex characteristics in females, an effect known as imposex. It has been detected in the tissues of marine mammals, such as seals, sea otters and water birds and shellfish around the world.

In the sediments from Kynosoura, an area where paint is sand blasted from ships in the open sea, levels of TBT were as high as 89,600 micrograms per kilogram--1.8 million times higher than the provisional limit set by the OSPAR convention in 1997. OSPAR is the intergovernmental organization that regulates marine pollution in the northeast Atlantic, from Gibraltar to the Arctic.

"These poisons are wreaking havoc in the marine environment and could pose a threat to human health," said Stelios Psomas, executive director of Greenpeace Greece. "It's clear they are leaching directly from ship paint into waters just meters from popular swimming areas. They must be banned immediately."

Last year, following increased concern about TBT, the International Maritime Organization passed a resolution calling for a complete phaseout of the use of organotins, especially TBT, in ship paints by 2003 and for TBT-free alternatives to be used.

But the European Commission recently rejected draft proposals by Belgium for a national ban on all organotin anti-fouling paints for use on ships.

"The European Commission and other governmental bodies should support initiatives to ban these toxic pollutants and encourage the shipping industry to use biocide free paints," said Psomas. "While progress towards a ban is obstructed, these hazardous chemicals continue to poison our seas."

According to the World Health Organization, TBT, which is also used in manufacturing PVC products, is one of the most toxic substances knowingly released into the environment today.

(Source: Environment News Service)

Image by Burnham RNG, courtesy twentytwo & brand.