Calls for ban on substance to prevent seabird tragedy

Oiled seabirds
Oiled seabirds

THE RSPB has this week called for tighter international regulations to prevent a substance implicated in the deaths of thousands of seabirds from being released into our seas.

The substance polyisobutene, or PIB, has been identified by scientists at the University of Plymouth from samples taken from seabirds washed up along the south and west coasts, which accords with analysis done separately by the Environment Agency.

PIB is believed to have been responsible for over 4,000 seabird deaths in at least four incidents around European coasts in recent years yet is currently given one of the lowest hazard classifications [category Z, substances presenting a minor hazard to either marine resources or human health and therefore justifying less stringent restrictions on the quality and quantity of discharge into the marine environment].

The RSPB has pointed to evidence that raises questions about the validity of this classification, and believes the current classification does not take into consideration the impact on marine wildlife. They claim the effects of PIB are only tested under laboratory conditions which do not take into account harmful changes to seabirds and the marine environment when mixed with sea water. As a result, PIB can still legally be dumped into the sea when vessels wash out their tanks.

Alec Taylor, the RSPB’s Marine Policy Officer, said: “Given that this substance is used for making chewing gum, adhesive tape and cosmetics, millions of people safely come into contact with it every day. However, when it mixes with sea water this chemical can become lethal for seabirds, covering them in a sticky goo, preventing them from flying, feeding and surviving.”