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California considers plan to clean up heavy copper pollution in Marina del Rey water

Copper pollution

(NaturalNews) Efforts to clean up California's marinas from copper contamination have fueled controversy with the recent proposal to go ahead with cleaning up Marina del Rey's copper-contaminated sediment, which does not threaten human health.

The problem is that part of the cleanup involves stripping the boats' hulls of copper-based paints and redoing them with ecologically friendlier hull coatings. The boat owners in that marina are revolting.

The whole reason for using copper-based paints on boats that sit in water at marinas is to keep barnacles from forming. The element copper resists most forms of algae and primitive forms of sea life.

Copper plating is sometimes used in hospitals to help prevent harmful pathogens from colonizing. It's a known biocide.

Barnacles are simple sea animals related to shrimp and lobsters. As they accumulate on ship or boat hulls, they present several problems such as reducing speed and affecting the integrity of wooden hulls.

The larger the boat, the more expensive it is to dry dock it often, remove the barnacles and repaint it. Copper-based paints are used to make this a much less frequent issue.

The situation

But ecologists argue that those copper-based paints on hulls sitting in marinas may affect more sea life than just barnacles. Marina del Rey, located on the Los Angeles county coastline just north of Santa Monica, is one of the largest man-made marinas in the world, with over 4,500 boats.

The current cleanup proposal comes from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board, which has measured the marina's copper concentration at 12 parts per billion, almost four times the regional board's standard of 3.1 parts per billion. This has prompted them to unanimously offer a grand solution that would be very costly.

Not everyone agrees that this plan is vital for the ecological safety of the marina's harbor. It is isolated from open waters, and veteran boaters say there are plenty of fish in the marina waters, with more gulls than ever flitting about and feeding on them.

Prohibitive costs vs actual need

There are two approaches for cleaning up the harbor, with another to prevent copper contamination. The most costly is to dredge the sludge from the bottom of the shallow harbor, very expensive. Cost estimates range from 150 to 200 million dollars for Marina del Rey.

A less expensive solution is to simply create a new bottom in the harbor's water by covering the sludge with clay, pebbles or other natural materials, a practice known as "sediment capping." That could run at around $20 million. Unfortunately, that method is more suited for deeper waters.

Some are concerned that slip fees may go up if LA County levies a tax on the Marina to recover some of the costs.

Then there are the individual expenses of boat owners who would be forced into first stripping their hulls of copper-based paints and then repainting them with eco-friendly paints. Those costs range from $6,000 to over $8,000, and many argue that eco-friendly paints don't work as well or at all. That would mean more dry dock barnacle removal and painting.

Resistance to this plan has come from boat owners and even the owner of The Boatyard in Marina del Rey, Greg Schem, who would experience a financial windfall stripping copper paints and repainting if the measure is enacted.

Greg mentioned the lack of feasible paint alternatives during one of the meetings. He warned, "[T]he fact is we have to do what's right. If we're all boaters and in this for the long haul, this is not the right way to approach it. We have to be more rational."

Deputy Director Gary Jones of the Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors asked the board to delay adoption of the plan for two years so that the county could "conduct the necessary studies that would provide the best path forward for all concerned and reduce copper levels in the marina to acceptable levels."

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