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).

Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) – Call for student applications!

The Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) is offering paid internships for its 10-week program this summer. Internships are open to any student in Oregon who are juniors or seniors or have obtained graduate or advanced undergraduate training in business, economics, engineering, environmental science, green chemistry, physical science, or sustainability science. Projects address pollution prevention solutions for Oregon businesses and pair students with an industry mentor to gain hands-on experience in project development and management, as well as science communication to interdisciplinary audiences. Project topics include energy or water audits, toxics reduction, green chemistry, and life cycle assessment.

Application materials include a brief résumé, transcripts, and short statement expressing your interest (how you might benefit from the opportunity and how your skills align with the project(s) of interest). More details about application requirements and the available positions are provided on our website:

For full consideration, submit your application by April 12. Applicants will be matched to the opportunities based on experience and interest areas. Program dates are June 17 through August 30, 2019; stipends and training will be provided to eligible students. Please contact Valerie Stephan-LeBeouf ( for more information

2019 OASE Host Businesses:

  1. AntFarm; Sandy, OR
  2. Grand Central Bakery; Portland, OR
  3. Stumptown Coffee Roasters; Portland, OR
  4. East West Tea Company, LLC (Yogi); Eugene, OR
  5. Green Hammer; Portland, OR
  6. RiverBend Materials; Salem, OR
  7. Stoller Wine Group; Dayton, OR

From the Oregon Legislature to Research and the Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE)…

Here’s to my first blog post as an Oregon Sea Grant Fellow!  It’s been a busy winter as I have transitioned from supporting the Coastal Caucus at the Oregon State Legislature to working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB), and helping to coordinate logistics for scholars applying to the 2019 Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE).

As a joint project for DEQ and OSMB, I am beginning research on boat anti-fouling paint usage and potential aquatic impacts in Oregon.  In case you didn’t know, boaters who leave their boats moored at marinas  in salt-water environments often use anti-fouling paint on the bottom of boat hulls to prevent the attachment and spread of aquatic organisms, including invasive species.  The use of anti-fouling paint in freshwater environments is less common as there are very few organisms that are classified as “fouling” that would be of concern for attaching to the bottom of a boat.  Boat bottom paint comes in many different forms with an array of different chemicals (or no chemicals such as an epoxy based paint).  In addition, the majority of boats in Oregon are “trailered” meaning they hardly ever spend an extended amount of time being moored in the water and are primarily day use boats where applying an anti-fouling paint to the boat bottom, would not be necessary.  One of the more common elements in anti-fouling paint is copper. As this chemical slowly leaches out of the paint, any organisms trying to attach to the surface of a boat, find it undesirable and thus don’t attach.  However, numerous studies indicate that high levels of copper can negatively impact salmon and potentially cause other unwanted harmful water quality conditions. DEQ and OSMB developed this project to increase place-based knowledge relating to anti-fouling paint usage, and potential, if any, aquatic impacts in Oregon.

It’s a new-to-me research area, plus fascinating and challenging, as copper is an essential nutrient at low concentrations, and is an abundant trace element that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and surface waters. In fresh water environments, levels can frequently fluctuate (toxic/not toxic) due to changes in temperature, pH, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), concentrations of cations such as calcium, magnesium and sodium, variations in alkalinity, etc. Too much copper can be a serious issue to aquatic organisms, and it can negatively impact salmon by impairing their sense of smell, which in turn, may negatively impact their ability to travel for spawning, avoid predators, etc. And it’s not just salmon, if copper levels are too high, other fish in fresh water, like trout, can experience reduced resistance to diseases, altered swimming, impairment to respiration, blood chemistry, and more.

That’s where I come in… I am currently in the processing of collecting data, reading studies, connecting with water quality experts, and beginning my connections with boaters/marinas/boatyards to compile a report that will summarize and provide some clarity on current anti-fouling practices and known levels of copper in some of Oregon’s salt-water and fresh water environments.

I am also currently assisting with the 2019 Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE). A joint program of Oregon Sea Grant and DEQ, OASE will place seven student interns at host businesses in Oregon to help analyze the company’s waste streams and to research and recommend process improvements that will lower operating costs while reducing negative environmental impacts. For the past month, I have been assisting with the preparation and organization of the administrative portions that will assist the team at Oregon Sea Grant and DEQ, and me, as I provide near-peer mentoring support to the selected candidates during their 10 week experience. Host businesses have been selected and students can apply now. This should be an exciting and fun project and I can’t wait to hear about the creative ideas for reducing waste that the interns develop over the upcoming summer months.