Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sanding and Painting Can Cause a Toxic Mess



By Lt. Bill Hempel
United States Power Squadrons

Of all the boat maintenance chores, the prep work of sanding and painting bugs me the most. It always seems that the chips and dust stick better to my skin than they originally did to my hull. We also may be creating an environmental mess. Most marine paints are made with toxic chemicals designed to leach out and prevent bottom growth on the hull. When concentrated amounts of these materials are ground and chipped off the hull, there is the potential for environmental harm.

In addition to the paint, solvents, thinners and brush cleaners contain cancer-causing agents and have a tendency to compromise water quality, damaging marine life and the underwater environment. Inhalation and absorption through skin can result in health problems too. I recently read a fact sheet published by the Rhode Island Sea Grant Advisory Service. I thought I would share with you some steps to take to minimize compromising the environment:

  1. In a Marina area, ask the Manager if there is a designated sanding and painting area to confine the waste products.
  2. Work under cover to minimize the wind blowing dust and paint into the open air.
  3. Use environmentally friendly tools, such as vacuum sanders and grinders, to collect and trap dust.
  4. Wear a mask over your nose and mouth to prevent inhalation.
  5. A hat and long sleeves will minimize potential skin and scalp problems.
  6. Immediately following your work, clean up all debris, sanding dust and paint chips
  7. Use a drop cloth under the hull to catch dust, chips and paint drops.
  8. After sanding or grinding over a paved area, do not attempt to hose the debris away.
  9. Buy varnishes, solvents, and thinners in sizes that you will use within one year.
  10. Use water-based paints and solvents.
  11. Even though they are more expensive, switch to longer lasting, harder or non-toxic antifouling paints at your next haul out.
  12. Mix your paints, solvents, and reducers as far from the water’s edge as possible.
  13. Remember that you can save money by recycling your own solvents and thinners.
  14. If you have small quantities of unusable solvents, dispose of them by brushing them on a board and letting them evaporate.
  15. Thoroughly dry all paint cans before attempting to dispose of them in the trash.
  16. If in doubt about proper disposal practices, check with your Marina Manager or your local municipality.

These few simple tips will help you play an important role in protecting our marine environment and potentially your own health. For many more tips on boating safety and maintenance, take a class from the United States Power Squadrons. Contact your local unit, Marco Island Sail &Power Squadron, at 239-393-0150, visit it on the web at or go to

The members of the United States Power Squadrons always remind us: “Boating is fun…we’ll show you how!”



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