It requires a permit for the ocean dumping of any other materials. Such a permit can only be issued where it is determined that the dumping will not unreasonably degrade or endanger human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities.
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Furthermore, all permits require notice and opportunity for public comment. EPA was directed to establish criteria for reviewing and evaluating ocean dumping permit applications that consider the effect of, and need for, the dumping. In , Congress amended this Act to conform with the London Convention. In , the Act was amended to incorporate a ban by on ocean dumping of wastes that may unreasonably degrade the marine environment.
Causes, Effects and Solutions of Ocean Dumping
As a result of this ban, approximately permittees dumping sewage sludge and industrial waste stopped ocean dumping of these materials. In , the law was amended to make any dumping of low-level radioactive waste require specific approval by Congress. In , the. Ocean Dumping Ban Act was passed to prohibit ocean dumping of all sewage sludge and industrial waste by Virtually all material ocean dumped in the United States today is dredged material. Other materials include fish wastes, human remains, and vessels. Physical properties of wastes, such as density, and its chemical composition affect the dispersal, and settling of the wastes dumped at sea.
Many contaminants such as metals found in trace amounts in natural materials are enriched in wastes. After material is dumped at sea, there is usually initial, rapid dispersion of the waste. For example, some wastes are dumped from a moving vessel, with dilution rates of 1, to , from the ship's wake. As the wake subsides, naturally occurring turbulence and currents further disperse wastes eventually to nondetectable background levels in water in a matter of hours to days, depending on the type of wastes and physical oceanic processes. Dilution is greater if the material is released slower and in smaller amounts, with dispersal rates decreasing over time.
Wastes, such as dredged material, that are much denser than the surrounding seawater sink rapidly. Less dense waste sinks more slowly, depending on the type of waste and physical processes of the dumpsite. As sinking waste particles reach seawater of equal density, they begin to spread horizontally, with individual particles slowly settling to the sea bottom. The accumulation of the waste on the sea floor varies with the location and characteristics of the dumpsite.
Quiescent waters with little tidal and wave action in enclosed shallow environments have more waste accumulate on the bottom in the general vicinity of the dumpsite. Wastes dumped in more open, well-mixed ocean waters are transported away from the dumpsite by currents and can disperse over a very large area, as much as several hundred square kilometers.
The physical and chemical properties of wastes change after the material has been dumped into the ocean. As wastes mix with seawater, acid-base neutralization, dissolution or precipitation of waste solids, particle adsorption and desorption, volatilization at the sea surface, and changes in the oxidation state may occur.
For example, when acid-iron waste is dumped at sea, the buffering capacity of seawater rapidly neutralizes the waste. Hydrous iron oxide precipitates are formed as the iron reacts with seawater and changes from a dissolved to a solid form. The fraction of the waste that settles to the bottom is further changed as it undergoes geochemical and biological processes.
Some of the elements of the waste may be mobilized in organic-rich sediment ; however, if sulfide ions are present, metals in waste may be immobilized by precipitation of metal sulfides. Organisms living on the sea floor may ingest waste particles, or mix waste deeper in the sediment by burrowing activities. Microorganisms decompose organic waste , potentially recycling elements from the waste before it becomes part of the sea floor sediments.
Generally sediment-related processes will act on waste particles over a longer time scale than hydrologic processes in the water column. The effects of dumping on the ocean are difficult to measure and depend on complex interactions of factors including type, quantity, and physical and chemical properties of the wastes; method and rate of dumping; toxicity to the biotic community ; and numerous site-specific characteristics, such as water depth, currents turbulence , water column density structure, and sediment type. Many studies have found that the effects of ocean dumping on the water column are usually temporary and that the ocean floor receives the most impact.
Impacts from dumping dredged material are usually limited to the dumpsite. Burial of some benthic organisms organisms living at or near the sea floor may occur; however, burrowing organisms may be able to move vertically through the deposited material and fishes typically leave the area. Seagrasses, coral reefs , and oyster beds may never recover after dredged material is dumped on them. There also can be topographic changes to the sea floor.
See also Dredging. July 16, [cited July ]. London Convention. Bortman, Marci L. Pollution of the open seas by human activities has become a serious problem. Ocean dumping is the dumping or placing of materials in designated places in the ocean, often on the continental shelf.
Washington Watch: Ocean dumping revisited | BioScience | Oxford Academic
A wide range of materials is involved, including garbage, construction and demolition debris, sewage sludge, dredge material, and waste chemicals. In some cases, ocean dumping is regulated and controlled, while some dumping occurs haphazardly by ships and tankers at sea, or illegally within coastal waters. Incineration at sea of organic wastes, with subsequent dumping, has been allowed as a viable disposal process, both in the United States and in Europe. An important, but little recognized source of ocean dumping is the elimination of bilge water from tankers carrying oil and other products.
Bilge water can contain a number of toxic chemicals, as well as biological agents that can affect marine ecosystems and marine organisms, some of which are subsequently consumed by humans. Dumping of radioactive wastes and soil from contaminated nuclear defense sites has periodically been suggested as a viable disposal method, and canisters of nerve gas have been disposed of at sea. In addition to permitted ocean dumping, there is always the possibility of collisions, groundings, and accidents that result in de facto ocean dumping, often of materials not otherwise allowed.
At one time, drums containing hazardous waste were dumped, but the disintegration of canisters caused sufficient concern to halt this process. Some of the drums containing hazardous chemicals were dumped in shallow seas, such as the North Sea , that are intensely fished, creating a potential risk to humans from the consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish.
A number of U. Most states also have a number of laws and regulations to control operations. There are three main direct public health risks from ocean dumping: 1 occupational accidents, injuries, and exposures; 2 exposure of the public to hazardous or toxic materials washed up on beaches; and 3 human consumption of marine organisms that have been contaminated by ocean disposal. Periodically, medical and other wastes from both legal and illegal dumping have washed up on beaches, resulting in exposure to beachgoers and, in some cases, the closure of beaches until the wastes could be removed.
Consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated from radioactive wastes may pose a serious problem worldwide because of nuclear waste dumping in the oceans. One of the main sources of toxic chemicals off the Atlantic coast of the United States has been ocean-dumped municipal sewage sludge. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Article PDF first page preview.
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Sign in via your Institution Sign in. This legal and economic preference, coupled with the reality that ocean disposal is almost always the sludge management alternative of least political resistance, could well translate into a massive increase in the ocean dumping of toxic wastes.
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Some scientists have argued that the oceans are underutilized as a waste disposal medium, but there also is reason to believe that persistent toxic contaminants and sludges which contain them should not be dispersed into the environment under conditions which preclude meaningful management, but that isolation and containment on land under strict management safegurds — or destruction, e. Such a scenario is not idle speculation. Captain Lawrence Swanson, head of the Office of Marine Pollution Assessment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, writing in the June issue of Environment magazine, estimated that nationwide over 17 million tons of sludge might be ocean dumped by if major sludge producers on the East and West Coasts, who are now considering ocean dumping, are permitted to do so.
This would be more than a threefold increase in sludge dumping levels since Congress amended the MPRSA in [13 ELR ] to prohibit the dumping of harmful sludge beyond Pressure to pursue this option will continue to grow. Over the next decade, there will not only be a drastic increase in the amount of sludge produced in U. Increasingly, local sewerage authorities, faced with drastic cuts in federal sludge management funds and growing public concern over the effects of land-based disposal of contaminated wastes, will look for cheaper and less controversial disposal alternatives.
For coastal communities, that will often mean ocean dumping, unless some type of statutory barrier to easy ocean access is maintained. Sewage sludge is not the only material with which waste managers must contend. Growing amounts of toxic industrial wastes, radioactive wastes, coal ash and dredge spoils must also be disposed of.
The Sofaer decision, should it become federal policy, could well affect the disposal of these wastes as well. As noted by Bleicher, interest in ocean disposal of industrial waste appears to be increasing, and the statutory language applicable to sewage sludge, which Judge Sofaer interpreted as requiring a balancing test, is identical to the language applicable to industrial wastes. In short, the City of New York decision, if allowed to drive U. It is in this broader context that one must view both EPA's refusal to appeal the Sofaer decision to a higher court, and the National Wildlife Federation's ongoing effort to counter that decision in a separate lawsuit against New Jersey-based ocean dumpers.
Related Ocean Dumping of Industrial Wastes
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