Oceans & Forests Blog

EPA Asked to Update 30-Year-Old Sewage Standards for Ships

Posted Apr. 28, 2009 / Posted by: Nick Berning

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Marcie Keever (415) 544-0790, ext. 223 Nick Berning, (202) 222-0748

Outdated rules allow dumping of inadequately treated sewage from cruise ships and other large ocean-going vessels

SAN FRANCISCO—Friends of the Earth issued a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today requesting that the EPA update standards governing sewage dumping from large ships. The environmental group said current vessel sewage discharge standards that allow the use of 30-year-old technology are outdated and fail to protect water quality, and that far better treatment technology exists and has been in use in some cruise ships for years.

The petition was drafted for Friends of the Earth by the Kathy and Steve Berman Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law.

“The EPA itself acknowledged, almost nine years ago, that current ‘standards … may no longer be sufficiently stringent in light of available new technologies,’” said Marcie Keever, Clean Vessels Campaign Director at Friends of the Earth. “Not only are these standards outdated, but the treatment systems tested by the EPA did not meet even the EPA’s extremely outmoded criteria. We are hopeful that, under a new administration, the EPA will finally compel all large ships, especially cruise ships, dumping waste in U.S. waters to use better technology. We would like vessel sewage standards brought into the 21st century.”

In recent years, the pollution of U.S. coastal waters and oceans has led to public beach closings, shellfish bed contamination, dead zones, and permanent damage to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Sewage discharges from cruise ships and large ocean-going vessels endanger marine environments and public health because they release disease-causing microorganisms, viruses and excessive levels of nutrients. A single large cruise ship on a one-week voyage can generate over 200,000 gallons of raw sewage, which can end up being dumped untreated or without adequate treatment into U.S. waters.

The Clean Water Act requires all ships with onboard toilets to install certified sanitation devices; large ships must treat sewage prior to discharge only when they are within three nautical miles of U.S. shores. In addition to treating sewage, sanitation devices can hold untreated sewage for onshore pump-out or for dumping after the ship has traveled more than three nautical miles from shore. “Type II” marine sanitation devices are the most common type of sanitation devices used on cruise ships and other vessels with large volumes of sewage and other human wastewater.

Although current standards require Type II devices to reduce fecal coliform bacteria counts to no greater than 200 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters, “EPA data indicate that the fecal coliform bacteria concentration in discharges from cruise ships with Type II devices can exceed the EPA’s limits by over 10,000 times,” said Keever. “This level of noncompliance is unacceptable when new technology is available. Newer, advanced wastewater treatment systems generally improve treatment and disinfection compared to traditional Type II devices. Indeed, this cleaner technology is already in use in 40 percent of the U.S. cruise ship fleet, and there’s no reason the other 60 percent shouldn’t also meet this standard,” said Keever.

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Friends of the Earth (www.foe.org) is the U.S. voice of the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 70 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has been at the forefront of high-profile efforts to create a more healthy, just world.

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