US Slammed for Ocean Dumping of Toxic Aircraft Carrier off Florida Coast
BAN Press Release
12 June 2006 (Seattle, USA.) –
Following a presentation by Greenpeace at an international meeting of the Scientific Group of the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes, held in Dalian, China, calling the May 17 sinking of the aircraft carrier ex-Oriskany, containing more than 300 kilograms of pure PCBs, a "contravention of the aims of the Convention", several countries, including Denmark, Spain, and Canada expressed concern over the US Government's new "artificial reefing" program that fails to provide for decontamination of pollutants prior to sinking.
Denmark said they considered the reefing of the ex-Oriskany a contravention of the London Convention which forbids ocean dumping of pollutants, while Spain expressed concerns over the disposal and pointed to the ex-Oriskany as a case study that would help launch the development of international guidelines for artificial reefing. Canada cited a similar case involving a Canadian vessel that was artificially reefed. It was initially thought that PCBs in the vessel's electrical cable would not leach, only to discover years later elevated levels of PCBs in the sediments around the reef site.
"These countries recognized immediately that the so-called "artificial reef" program is just toxic dumping by another name," said Richard Gutierrez, toxics policy analyst for the Basel Action Network (BAN)."The environmental horrors brought upon by cases such as the Exxon Valdez and the Prestige is still vividly remembered by the global community. But those were accidents. For the US to purposely dump persistent toxic chemicals which have been globally banned into the marine environment, endangering the marine food chain just to save a buck, is utterly shameful."
BAN earlier warned the EPA that they were violating international law if they did not first decontaminate the vessel fully in its January 2006 submission to the EPA but were rebuffed by the government which subsequently granted the Navy exemption from the Toxics Substances Control Act which forbids all forms of open disposal of PCBs.* BAN raised several issues associated with the reefing of the ex-Oriskany, such as the avoidability of the environmental harm posed by PCBs since they can be removed from the vessel before reefing; the wasting of valuable scrap steel which could have been be recovered from the vessel, thus minimizing the need for primary mining and energy consumption; and the probable impact to the marine environment from other contaminants onboard the vessel such as asbestos, while providing many jobs for shipyard workers.
The ex-Oriskany is known to contain over 790 tonnes of materials contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, and between 500 to 600 tonnes of asbestos. PCBs in the ex-Oriskany are persistent organic pollutants, and are widely known to bio-accumulate in the marine food chain poisoning top predators. PCBs are considered a probable human carcinogen and are slated for global elimination and complete destruction by the Stockholm Convention, another environmental treaty. The vessel was sunk 23 miles off the coast of Florida last May 17, 2006, as part of the US Navy's Artificial Reefing Program.
What is especially disturbing to environmentalists and domestic ship recyclers is the fact that the US Navy spent several years and over $12 million dollars of taxpayer funds to produce two scientific models in order to receive an exemption from US law forbidding open disposal of PCBs at land or at sea. Further, with a growing cache of obsolete naval vessels that need to be disposed of, and high costs for pre-cleaning the ships of PCBs, a shrinking budget; and inability to export its obsolete vessels to cheap breaking yards in poorer countries due to the opposition of environmental and human rights groups, BAN fears that the Navy is banking on "artificial reefing" as the next cheapest mode of disposal.
"Now that the global community has condemned the dumping of asbestos and PCB laden vessels on developing countries such as India and Bangladesh, instead of coming clean, the government is looking for new cheap and dirty dumping grounds closer to home," said BAN coordinator Jim Puckett. "Hopefully, this latest outrage voiced at the London Convention meeting will send a message to the Bush administration that this latest ploy is illegal and unacceptable."
For more information contact:
Richard Gutierrez, Basel Action Network +1.206.652.5555
*And see BAN submission at: http://www.ban.org/Library/comments_epa_approval_exoriskany_draft_19_jan_06.pdf
Also see BAN and Greenpeace report, "Reefing Madness: The Navy's Toxic Ship Dumping Program," May 2006, at: http://www.ban.org/Library/reports_Reefing_Madness_Final_May_06.pdf
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