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Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EAL) – A Complete Guide

Wire ropes are used in the marine industry for rigging of vessels, cranes, and moors. This puts them in direct contact with some of the ocean’s most vulnerable creatures and habitats. Millions of litres of lubricant enter the waterways every year, which puts ecosystems and marine life in harm’s way.

Lubricants enter water systems through operational discharge, leakages, spills, and vessel cleaning. Today, we’ll look at what EAL Lubricants are and why more companies are using them in their operations.

EPA, VGP, EAL – what does it all mean?

In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S issued a revised Vessel General Permit (VGP).

This permit mandates the use of Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) in all oil-to-water instances on vessels of 79 feet or longer. The VGP applies to these vessels in U.S coastal and inland waters, up to and 3 miles from the coasts and Great Lakes.

The VPG mandate applies to:

  • Wire Ropes
  • Stern Tubes
  • Controllable Pinch Propellers
  • Azipods
  • Rudder Bearings
  • Stabilisers
  • Thruster Azimuth Bearings
  • Thruster Hydraulic Fluids
  • Any mechanical equipment subject to immersion

Under the mandate enforced by the EPA, at least 90% of oil and 75% of grease used on U.S ships and those passing through U.S waters must be biodegradable.

The top 4 inputs of lubricants into the world’s marine port waters

  • 51% from vessel operational discharge
  • 19% from tank ship spills
  • 10% from lube leakages
  • 7% from tanker cargo washings

This amounts to an estimated annual discharge of up to 61 million litres of lubricant in the world’s waterways.

The best way to combat the impact of both accidental and necessary lubricant spillage, and to ensure your organisation is abiding by the guidelines set by the EPA, is to switch to environmentally friendly lubricants.


Environmentally acceptable lubricants, otherwise known as EALs, earn their name through compliance with the VGP. EALs are typically made with soybean, canola oil, sunflower extracts, and other vegetable matter, along with synthetic esters and polyalkylene glycol.

Unfortunately, with the demand for EALs comes a number of those who are marketing their lubricants as environmentally friendly or environmentally safe, yet they don’t have the official tick of approval as environmentally friendly lubricants.

When shopping for your lubricant, you should be looking for the phrase ‘environmentally acceptable’ specifically. This means your lubing greases are science-based and backed by industry regulation.

Features of the best EAL greases

  • Highly biodegradable and tested
  • Derived from naturally occurring plant-based sources
  • Completely bio-based
  • Renewable and sustainable
  • Non-bio accumulative
  • Tested for their toxicity level

If you’ve made the important decision to lower your organisation’s environmental impact by using EALs, you deserve to have confidence that your lubricant choice is both approved by the VGP and that it will have a low impact in the instance of release into waterways.

3 Key Factors of Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants

There are three EAL specifications defined by the EPA to ensure your lubricant will have minimal impact on the environment.

To be truly accepted and recommended by the VGP, these lubricants must be:

  • Biodegradable
  • Minimally toxic
  • Non-bio accumulative

1. Biodegradability

Simply put, biodegradability refers to the measure of a breakdown of a chemical or chemical mixture, per micro-organism.

Primary biodegradation occurs when the chemical compound is rendered inactive, potentially converting the compound to a less toxic version of itself. Ultimate biodegradation occurs when the compound is broken down into carbon dioxide, water, and mineral salt.

Biodegradation can be ‘inherent’. This means, it already shows evidence of biodegradation. It is ‘ready’, meaning some fraction of the compound is ultimately biodegradable within a set timeframe.

For a lubricant to be environmentally acceptable, it must be inherently or readily biodegradable using mineral oil, polyalkeylene glycols, synthetic ester, and vegetable oils.

2. Limited Aquatic Toxicity

An EAL must demonstrate low toxicity to aquatic organisms. Extensive testing such as the 72-hour growth test for algae, the 48-hour acute toxicity test and the 96-hour toxicity test for fish must take place to ensure low toxicity towards marine organisms to guarantee the lubricant is an EAL.

Generally, vegetable oil and synthetic ester base oils have low toxicity toward marine life, and water-soluble PAGs may have higher levels of aquatic toxicity.

While it is not always possible to measure the toxicity of oily chemicals due to their lack of water solubility, it can be possible to ensure the EAL will not be smothering or long-lasting once in the water.

3. Low Bio Accumulation

Bioaccumulation is the build-up of chemicals within the tissues of an organism.

The level at which bioaccumulation occurs will depend on environmental factors and the level of water solubility in the case of marine bioaccumulation.

Additionally, the longer the organism is exposed to a chemical, the greater the accumulation can occur. This build-up of chemicals can lead to adverse biological effects in fish and aquatic life forms.

While it isn’t feasible to eliminate bioaccumulation entirely, it is possible to use chemicals with a lower bioaccumulation potential, degrading quicker in the environment and in the organism itself.

The fatty acids in lubricants can reduce bioaccumulation, with the PAG, synthetic ester and vegetable oils promoting a faster breakdown of chemicals and a lack of bioaccumulation.

Why more companies are choosing EAL

It comes as little surprise that Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) are becoming an industry standard. Now, they are mandated for those working near or within the world’s waterways.

Many governmental bodies are moving towards the regulation of lubricants across the marine industry. This higher level of environmental awareness is forcing action within the operations of many businesses, with sustainability teams and departments cracking down to promote better treatment of the environment.

It’s incredibly important that all parties within your business or organisation understand the parameters surrounding the use of lubricant for daily cleaning in tasks like mooring line maintenance. In doing so, you can miximize lubrication benefits while avoiding fees, charges, penalties and of course – negative environmental impact.

Contact Viper for a wire rope lubricant that’s better for the environment

To be environmentally-friendly, your lubrication products need to have the above characteristics. Viper’s ERG Eco Rope Guardian is an environmentally accepted lubricant that is tailor-made for use in applications in or near waterways, and it meets the stringent guidelines set out by the EPA’s Vessel General Permit.

This soft, semifluid formulation is designed to coat your wire rope to promote long life and smooth operation. The water-resistant qualities will enable the lubricant to adhere and prevent damage from moisture and rust. Maximize its benefits with Viper’s MKII rope lubricators.

If you’re looking for more information or advice regarding your lubricants or wire rope lubricators, Viper can help. Simply click here to get in touch.