The RSPB has recently called for tighter international regulations to prevent a lethal substance from being released into our seas. The substance, polyisobutene (PIB) is deadly to seabirds and it was identified by scientists at the University of Plymouth as the cause of death for thousands of seabirds.
The university study identified the substance from samples taken from seabirds that had washed up along the south-west coast of England, which also fits in well with analysis done separately by the Environment Agency.
In recent years PIB is believed to have been responsible for over 4,000 seabird deaths in at least four incidents around European coasts. However, it is currently given one of the lowest hazard classifications under The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.
The RSPB has worked tirelessly to point out the evidence that raises questions about the validity of this classification. They have noted that the effects of the chemical are only tested under laboratory conditions which don’t take into account the harmful effects on seabirds and the marine environment, after the PIB has mixed with seawater.
As a result of the low hazard classification, PIB can still be legally 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, it's when it mixes with seawater that this chemical can become lethal for seabirds, covering them in a sticky goo, and preventing them from flying, feeding and ultimately surviving.”
After publishing their results, the RSPB is today seeking public support to call on the International Maritime Organisation to urgently review the hazard classification of PIB, and implement regulations that prevent any further tragic and wholly avoidable incidents like the one just witnessed.
For more information, or to make a donation to help the RSPB with their cause, click here.