In a 2009 study conducted by the BoatU.S. Foundation, four criteria were used to evaluate twenty boat soaps and cleaners: toxicity, biodegradability, effectiveness, and price.* Effectiveness and pricing are fairly straightforward. But how does the average boater determine whether cleaners rinsed into our water are poisoning living organisms or taking months—even years—to break down into harmless components?
Until there is greater transparency, we can’t. According to the report, even those marketed as “environmentally-friendly” may or may not mean nontoxic and biodegradable. Surprisingly, several of the “green” cleaners proved among the most harmful when subjected to laboratory testing. And while the Federal Trade Commission updated “Green Guidelines” in 2012 to minimize false claims in the marketplace, BoatU.S. Foundation Vice President Susan Shingledecker still urges caution.
“Most of the guidelines are geared towards products rinsed down the drain and treated in sewage treatment facilities before they end up in our water,” she said. “That’s not the case when it is sprayed directly on the boat or even diluted in a bucket of water and rinsed off. The best bet is to make behavioral changes so you don’t need the intense cleaners.”
She suggested washing boats more frequently so dirt doesn’t accumulate; not exceeding manufacturer’s dilution recommendations; and using milder, environmentally friendly soaps to minimize the use of heavy-duty cleaners. “But if you must use a strong cleaning agent,” Ms. Shingledecker added, “wipe it off with a cloth rather than rinsing it into the lake.”
With the exception of Soft Scrub with Bleach, (“poor” in toxicity, “fair in biodegradability—but “excellent” in performance and low in price—i.e. my husband’s favorite product), none of the products tested are among those amassed in our boat’s back lazarette.
Would BoatU.S. Foundation leaders consider updating the study given the number of new products on the market and the revised FTC guidelines?
“We regularly test products that help keep our waterways clean and our boaters safe,” Ms. Shingledecker said. “The 2009 study was one of our most popular. It probably makes sense to take another look.”
In the meantime, I’m asking my Congressman, and those seeking to replace him in the fall, why we can’t have transparency on labels when products flow unencumbered into our sources of fresh water. I urge you to do the same.
(To see the best and worst boat cleaners, click on: http://www.boatus.org.)
* Thanks to the secondary research conducted by Hope College student Cody Berkobien, I was introduced to the research arm of the BoatU.S. Foundation.
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