23 July 2011

Report: Local Eyesores Leaching Toxics Into Bay

SUISUN BAY, Calif. July 18, 2011 - A new report, "Dishonorable Disposal," by the Basel Action Network (BAN), and subsequent investigation by The Washington Post, uncovers the wasteful legacy of the U.S. Navy's ship sinking programs. The first-ever comprehensive analysis of ship dumping finds that solid PCBs, which are not required to be stripped from ships before ship sinking, are now widely acknowledged by the EPA to have leached into the marine environment and contaminate fish.

Several of the ghost ships at Suisun Bay have already been sent to Texas to be scrapped, while others are being recycled at a new facility in the Bay Area. However the fleet will be removed gradually, and will not be entirely removed from the bay until fall, 2017, and it remains unclear whether some may be destined to become artificial reefs. In 2009 the Maritime Administration conducted a survey that found that more than 20 tons of toxic material had leached into Suisun Bay, which is an important environment for fish and wildlife, including the endangered Chinook salmon.

"We're doing the right thing by recycling the retired fleet at Suisun Bay, but we now know that this process isn't happening quickly enough," said Colby Self, BAN's Green Ship Recycling Coordinator. "Our marine environment is suffering a continuous assault from this floating toxic waste dump, while domestic ship recyclers need work. We can solve both problems by ensuring that all of these ships are recycled without delay."

The EPA and Navy admit that toxic chemicals are deposited into the marine environment as a result of ship sinking operations, including asbestos, lead paint, antifouling paint containing tributyltin (TBT), polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs) and notably polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a suspected carcinogen that has been targeted for global phase-out and destruction under the Stockholm Convention. As yet unreleased fish sampling data gathered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, cited in BAN's report, reveals startling toxic leaching from the scuttled aircraft carrier Ex-Oriskany, an artificial reef sunk in Florida waters in 2006. The report reveals that PCBs were leached into surrounding waters and taken up by fish at levels exceeding the Florida Department of Health fish consumption advisory levels. However, no public health warnings have been issued since the discovery of this contamination.

"The harmful effects of PCBs include cancer, reproductive problems and memory loss, with the risk greatest for children and unborn babies. PCBs may also cause similar problems in wildlife," said Dr. Alan Duckworth of the Blue Ocean Institute in response to the report. "It is therefore disturbing that the U.S. disposes of obsolete vessels by sinking them, promoting the release of toxins like PCBs into our food chain. To prevent the contamination of our seafood it is essential that obsolete naval vessels are not dumped in our oceans."

BAN also found that the U.S. government's ship sinking programs have escalated in recent years. From 1970-1999 the ship sinking programs accounted for approximately eight percent of all vessel disposals, but from 2000-2008, sinkings accounted for an alarming 70 percent of all disposals. Roughly 100 vessels containing an estimated 600,000 tons of recyclable steel, copper and aluminum, worth an estimated half a billion dollars have been dumped at sea over the past decade alone.

In a time of tight budgets and careful use of taxpayer money, the report reveals that the U.S. government spent a total of $25 million on the dumping of just four ships as artificial reefs in the past eight years. Total reefing costs amounted to $554 per ton. In contrast, the cost of recycling retired vessels for metals recovery in these same years was an average $67 per ton.

"The ocean dumping of our national fleet is the poster child for wasteful government spending of taxpayer dollars," said Colby Self, BAN's Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director. "But even worse, it squanders natural resources that could otherwise be recycled, deep sixes recycling jobs that could boost local economies, and poses unreasonable risk to the marine environment and the people and those who fish for profit or pleasure. We must close the book on this arcane practice of scuttling our old warships and opt for domestic ship recycling."

While the SINKEX program allows the Navy to fire on inactive naval warships to practice gunnery and torpedo accuracy, there are more reasonable methods now demonstrated as viable and available, such as computer simulations, or use of clean barges and inflatable targets. Further, contrary to popular belief, the sinking of waste material at sea as artificial reefs may actually be detrimental to species populations, as it concentrates fish and allows for overfishing.

According to BAN, domestic ship recycling is the only acceptable disposal method, as it properly contains and disposes of toxic waste, recirculates critical metals resources into the domestic marketplace to reduce reliance on the dangerous and damaging primary metals mining industry while creating green U.S. jobs. BAN's report calls for an end to government sponsored ocean dumping programs and calls for a national policy that always favors domestic recycling.

Source: YubaNet. By: Basel Action Network. 18 July 2011

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