Three leading wildlife organisations have joined together to call for the ban on the discharge of polyisobutene (PIB), which has killed hundreds of seabirds.
The disaster of hundreds of seabirds dying along England’s southern coast because of marine pollution has prompted the RSPB, the RSPCA and The Wildlife Trust to write to Transport Minister Stephen Hammond, alerting him to the growing threat.
The three charities are urging the minister to take a lead in driving an international reclassification of the man-made substance to prohibit the discharge of PIB at sea. PIB renders seabirds helpless, restricting their mobility and preventing them from feeding as the chemical coats their plumage. There have have been two pollution incidents involving PIB along the South Coast this year, and at least three others around European coasts in recent years.
The chemical is used in the manufacture of a range of products including lubricants to football bladders, chewing gum to cling film, and it is also used to control the thickness of oils.
It can be legal to discharge PIB when ships wash out their tanks at sea, but these permissions are based on tests carried out under laboratory conditions and no consideration is taken of what happens when the chemical meets sea water, beyond whether the substance floats or sinks.
In the sea, however, the polyisobutene transforms into a glue-like, ‘waxy’ formation, coating the feathers of birds, preventing them from diving and finding food. Alec Taylor, the RSPB’s marine policy officer, said: “This material is a killer which has claimed the lives of thousands of seabirds, causing many to suffer a lingering death. It cannot be right that it is legal to release it in any quantity into our seas.”
The three wildlife charities are calling on the Minister to write to the International Maritime Organisation to request a review of PIB’s hazard status under the Marpol Convention, which states it is legal to discharge PIB when a vessel’s tanks are flushed at sea. The campaigning group 38 Degrees has also launched an e-action urging the government to take action.