Plastic Fibers, Anti-Fouling Boat Paint, Aquatic Invasive Species, and OASE Interns!

It’s been a busy spring, and I’ve continued to work on projects ranging from the impacts of synthetic fibers on overall plastic particle pollution, the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint, ways to increase education and outreach to reduce invasion by aquatic invasive species, and providing administrative support for the Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) summer intern program.

It’s common knowledge that plastics are accumulating at unprecedented levels in oceans around the world.  In response, increasing numbers of people participate in beach cleaning efforts, and are changing their daily practices to reduce single-use plastics in their homes (re-usable bags/straws/ cups/ containers).  Although research indicates that large pieces of plastic (bottles, bags, straws, etc.) contribute most to the overall mass of plastics in the oceans, new studies are demonstrating that large pieces produce only a small share of the plastic particles (microplastics).   Of significant concern are the impacts of synthetic fibers from clothing made from nylon, polyester, and synthetic blends, which in turn, break down into microplastics found in our oceans and on local beaches.  These fibers aren’t reaching the oceans because clothing is thrown into the sea.  Rather, hundreds of thousands of fibers (plastic) may be released from our washing machines and into our municipal wastewater effluents every time we wash our fleece pullover and/or spandex/nylon/polyester tights.

As a first step toward understanding the magnitude of the issue, I completed a review of research on the significance of synthetic fibers in overall microplastic pollution, and included recommendations for follow-up.  Suggested studies for the future include projects that will trace the release of synthetic fibers during typical processes of washing clothing and subsequent discharge of fibers through current wastewater effluent systems, and assessing the volume of synthetic fibers that may be re-introduced into the environment as embedded particles in sludge applications on land.

As a joint project for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB), I am continuing research on the use of copper biocides in anti-fouling bottom boat paint and potential aquatic impacts in Oregon.  Anti-fouling boat paint is designed to slowly release varying levels of biocides (like copper) on contact with water.  Some paints are called an ablative paint, which is softer and allows the paint to wear off at a controlled rate, and much like a bar of soap, once the boat moves in the water or there is a current and or tide, the outer layer slowly wears away. Ablative paints generally contain lower levels of biocide toxins, but the toxins are released at a steadier rate as fresh paint is exposed. Copper in anti-fouling paint can also be released into the environment during boat maintenance and repainting practices.


It turns out that boaters who leave their boats moored at marinas in both salt and fresh water environments often use a biocide in anti-fouling paint on the bottom of boat hulls to prevent the attachment and spread of aquatic organisms, including invasive species.  Originally I thought that the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint in freshwater environments was less common as there are very few organisms that are classified as “boat fouling” that would be of concern for attaching to the bottom of a boat in fresh water.  However, it turns out that fresh water boat enthusiasts may also use a biocide paint that repels the accumulation of slime (biofilm to algae) on their boats, and the most common anti-slime boat paint includes a copper component.

Although copper occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and surface waters and is an essential nutrient at low concentrations, too much copper can negatively impact aquatic organisms, including the ability of fish to successfully reproduce and grow. In fact, numerous studies on fresh water fish and salmon have shown that high levels of copper can reduce resistance to disease, alter swimming patterns, impair respiration, blood chemistry, and more.

I am continuing to collect data, read studies, learn about typical boat cleaning and maintenance practices, and connect with water quality experts in Oregon.  By the end of this summer I will compile a report that summarizes the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint, provides some clarity on current anti-fouling paint practices, and begins to trace known levels of copper Oregon’s salt and fresh water environments.

A new project that I started this month is the development of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) education and outreach materials for boat yard operators. The state of Oregon through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the OSMB has a fairly robust program to educate boaters about the importance of identification and removal of AIS in Oregon. However, most of the current outreach information identifies species found in fresh water boating environments.

I am working on developing materials that will help boat yard operators identify and report species that could invade Oregon shores through marine (saltwater) environments – many of those were recently studied during the examination of tsunami debris from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Approximately 380 species of algae, invertebrates and fish were identified in Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD), and as recently as spring 2017, live Japanese species were still documented arriving on JTMD objects in North America and Hawaii. Although the number of live organisms from JTMD is now reduced, an introduction of AIS from salt water environments is still a significant concern. The new outreach materials will assist boat yard operators to act as front-line deterrents to invasions by providing information on identification and reporting of some of these less commonly known marine organisms.

Last, but not least, the OASE program is off and running for summer 2019. Interns, host businesses, and supporting partners had the opportunity to mingle and hear about this summer’s projects at a Meet & Greet event in May, and our 2019 interns gathered during an Orientation event this month to learn more about the OASE program and goals, expectations and deliverables, project assignments and developing project scopes, Pollution Prevention concepts, and administrative resources and support. I will continue to assist with the organization of the administrative portions of the program and provide mentoring support to the interns during their summer experience. I’ve included a picture of the 2019 Interns taken during Orientation and I wish them much success as they design waste reduction and pollution prevention systems for their host businesses.

(2019 OASE Interns – Anna Burton, RiverBend Materials; Jack Hobbs, Stanley Infrastructure; Nuchwara “Aam” Youngcharoen, Yogi Tea; Maya Hurst, Grand Central Bakery; Lara Andenoro, Stumptown Coffee Roasters; Olivia Bain, Green Hammer; Not pictured – Angelique Brown, AntFarm; Jacob Taddy; Rachel Mattenberger).

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2 thoughts on “Plastic Fibers, Anti-Fouling Boat Paint, Aquatic Invasive Species, and OASE Interns!

  1. What a comprehensive post, Valerie! I like how you’ve framed your Sea Grant fellowship in the context of pollution reduction – regardless of whether the pollutants are biological or chemical. What is one of your takeaways from viewing the topic of pollution from so many different angles?

  2. Thank you Sarah! Yes, research recommendations encourages a proactive approach to preventing pollution. My efforts examine the use of bio-toxins in anti-fouling boat paint and the release of synthetic (plastic) fibers in wastewater, post-washing. The OASE program is essential to helping businesses access and plan for reducing waste, which in turn helps to prevent pollution issues. All efforts emphasize the importance of identifying source contaminants and modifying processes and behaviors to reduce and/or eliminate potential environmental impacts.

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