Producing Paint Using Marine-Friendly Alternatives to DDT


Tang Hao has been a seasoned worker in the production of Anti Fouling Paint (AFP) for nearly a decade. He began working in Zhejiang Flying Whale Paint Ltd, Feijing, in his mid- 20s but was unaware that the paint he dealt with every day was DDT-based and extremely harmful to humans and wildlife.

DDT is a chemical substance in paint that can deter or kill the microorganism responsible for fouling. Fouling, or bio-fouling, is the accumulation of microorganisms and a common problem in shipping industries. High levels of fouling on a ship’s hull can significantly reduce the speed of the vessel and increase fuel consumption. Therefore, fishermen need to use special antifouling paint to prevent it from forming.

What Tang Hao and many other workers in the antifouling paint factories didn’t know was that DDT, one of the POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants), can negatively affect human health. “We had masks on when dealing with the paint and I would wash my hands before eating, so I thought DDT wouldn’t harm me”.  He was unaware that the DDT in paint can contaminate marine water and animal species, thus in turn threatening the food chain and ultimately human health. Long-term exposure to food-borne DDT has been associated with chronic health effects such as diabetes, cancer, reduced reproductive success and neurological disease.


  • DDT production in China ceased since May 2009, eliminating the use of 250 MT of DDT per year in production of DDT-based Anti Fouling Paint (AFP)
  • 18 antifouling paint producers like Zhejiang developed 38 alternatives, producing a total of 3,258 MT DDT-alternatives through the incentive program and an additional 3,403 MT of DDT-free alternatives outside the incentive program
  • 5 Anti Fouling Paint (AFP) producers were awarded with certificates through the ‘Green Antifouling Paint Certification’ program

Factories using antifouling paint like Feijing have an annual production volume of 6500MT, widely distributed among more than 20 municipalities in 9 coastal Chinese provinces. Most of their clients are owners of small/medium-sized fishing boats.

Honouring their commitments to the Stockholm Convention, China adopted strict regulations on elimination in production and use of DDT-based antifouling paint. Shen Bingqiang, the Chief Technician of Feijing recalled that “we weren’t able to buy DDT, so we started testing DDT alternatives in antifouling paint. Our customers were complaining about more fouling found on their boats”. Sadly, without alternatives that possessed better antifouling effects, sound environmental performance and lower cost, the fishermen would continue using DDT-based antifouling paint.

Thus in 2003 UNDP partnered with the Chinese government to initiate theAlternatives to DDT Usage for Antifouling Paint Production in China Project, aimed at substituting the harmful paint with technically feasible, economically viable and environmentally friendly alternatives.

A three-stage incentive program was introduced to encourage 18 factories like the Zhejiang Flying Whale Paint Company (Feijing) to participate. First, the DDT-free alternative had to be officially approved as environmentally-friendly through scientific testing. Secondly, the program would provide manufacturers with subsidies to help reduce the sales price of their eco-friendly paint. Lastly, the project provided an opportunity for other manufacturers to obtain free environmental risk evaluations of their paints to check their environmental impact.

Two out of three paints submitted by Feijing were awarded with the ‘certification for environmentally-friendly products’. “Because of the certificates, by October we sold 450 MT of additional antifouling paints. These were eco-friendly alternatives like Zineb or Cuprous Oxide. The certification attracted clients such as ship manufactures”, Shen said.

The systematic solution provided by the project has enabled research institutions and the private sector to work together to identify, select, test, commercialize and adopt new alternatives. 

Tang didn’t realize the long-term impact of DDT, but after seeing the extensive factory reforms taking place, he understood that DDT was something he could not get rid of simply by “washing his hands”. UNDP’s commitment to finding and using new alternatives to replace age-old practices meant that factory workers like Tang could work with a safer and marine-friendly antifouling paint.

Since May 2009, UNDP and its partners have eliminated the use of 250 MT of DDT per year - mainly in the production of DDT-based antifouling paint (AFP) - through establishing multiple incentive programs. The project has already established a long-term mechanism to protect both marine environments and human health from the pollution of harmful antifouling systems, based on technologies obtained from the phasing out of DDT-based antifouling paint. In July 2011, China signed an International Maritime Organization (IMO) Convention on the Control of Harmful Antifouling Systems on Ships.

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