Banned: chemical that killed thousands of Westcountry seabirds
A chemical blamed for the deaths of thousands of seabirds washed up on Westcountry beaches will no longer be dumped at sea following a worldwide ban.
High viscosity polyisobutylene, also known as PIB, was dumped into the sea during tank cleaning operations off the South Coast earlier this year.
The substance was found to be the cause of an estimated 4,000 bird deaths, creating scenes which shocked the nation and were hailed as an environmental disaster on a par with Torrey Canyon.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has now announced that ships can no longer expel PIB into open water and instead it will have to be disposed of safely at port.
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Conservation groups who have campaigned vigorously for a ban welcomed the announcement.
Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust's Conservation Advocacy Manager said the local outcry had driven the change in law.
“This is an important decision for wildlife,” he said.
“It's pleasing to see how quickly the IMO has acted and heartening to hear that local people's concerns have helped build momentum towards achieving this.
“However, we do see the PIB incidents of 2013 as a wake-up call.
“Dead and dying seabirds washed up on some of the south-west's most popular beaches were hard to ignore.”
Alec Taylor, Marine Policy Officer for the RSPB, said the charity was delighted with the action taken.
“The global trade in PIB products is increasing and with it the risks to our precious marine environment.
“The global ban on the deliberate discharge of high viscosity PIBs into our seas is a real step forward and one that we hope will end this particular pollution threat to seabirds and other marine life.”
Between February and April this year over 4,000 seabirds, of at least 18 species, mainly guillemots, were washed up on beaches from Cornwall to Dorset in two separate incidents.
The majority were dead, but some were alive and taken for treatment by the RSPCA at their West Hatch Centre.
The subsequent investigation by the Marine and Coastguard Agency revealed that the birds had been smothered with high viscosity PIB.
The same substance was also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of seabirds off the Dutch coast in March 2010.
RSPCA senior wildlife scientist Adam Grogan said banning PIB was the right decision.
“We welcome this decision. Our staff worked around the clock washing and treating these poor birds in January and April and it was heartbreaking seeing the pitiful state they were in.
“Hopefully this will help stop incidents like these happening again, and save wildlife from suffering and dying like this in the future.”
Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The thousands of dead and dying seabirds witnessed earlier this year were the most visible victims of mismanagement.
“Impacts on other parts of marine life support systems may have been just as widespread, and more serious.”
Marine conservation groups said the tragedy was the largest marine pollution incident of its kind in the region since the Torrey Canyon was wrecked on rocks off West Cornwall in 1967 spilling 120,000 of oil.
The decision to ban PIB was taken at a meeting of the IMO’s working group on the Evaluation of Safety and Pollution Hazards of Chemicals in London yesterday.
In effect, from next year cargo ships will be prohibited from discharging PIB into the sea and will have to dispose of it safely in port.
The recommendation to do this had been made by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) on behalf of the UK Government, following vigorous campaigning by wildlife charities and the public.