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Navy Ship Sinking Pollutes Sea with Toxic PCBs

EPA sued for failure to regulate ocean dumping of PCBs
December 9, 2011
San Francisco, CA —

Today, conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing failure to adequately regulate a federal ship sinking program that pollutes the sea with toxic chemicals. Earthjustice, on behalf of the Basel Action Network and Sierra Club, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Northern California.

The U.S. Navy’s ship sinking exercise program, called SINKEX, uses decommissioned military ships for live-fire target practice as the Navy’s preferred method of ship disposal, sinking a reported 109 ships at sea over the past decade alone. This method of ship disposal differs from the U.S. Maritime Administration’s, as well as the private shipping industries, preferred method of ship recycling.

The suit claims EPA fails to adequately regulate the ocean dumping of toxic PCBs, (polychlorinated biphenyls), a group of chemicals that are highly toxic and dangerous to human health. PCBs are contained in the obsolete ships used by the U.S. Navy for ship sinking exercises.

New data from a study in Florida supports the conclusion that PCBs, dumped during ship sinking exercises, are leaching from the sunken vessels and are entering the marine food chain. According to the study, this leads to PCB concentrations in fish that make them unsafe for human consumption.

In July 2011, the Basel Action Network and the Sierra Club petitioned EPA to regulate ship dumping more stringently. EPA failed to respond to the petition by the statutory deadline.

“The ocean dumping of our national fleet squanders natural resources that could otherwise be recycled, eliminates recycling job opportunities that could boost local economies, and poses unreasonable risk to the marine environment and to the people who derive their livelihood or recreation from it,” said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network. “The EPA can no longer turn a blind eye to this arcane practice; we have given them full notice.”

“Protection of our nation includes protection of our ocean environment and all the species, including humans, who depend on the health of the ocean,” said Dave Raney of the Sierra Club. “By strictly adhering to the law, we need not trade one for the other in the SINKEX exercises."

The lawsuit claims that EPA must initiate rules to regulate the marine disposal of PCBs during ship sinking exercises to protect human health and the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury.

BAN and Sierra Club are advocates for responsible ship recycling in the U.S. that not only protects the environment and human health from toxic PCBs, but also creates recycling jobs and stimulates the local economy.

“EPA is legally required to keep dangerous chemicals like PCBs out of our oceans,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice representing BAN and Sierra Club. “It’s time for EPA to make the Navy clean up its act.”

Read the complaint.

Contacts

Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1020

Colby Self, Basel Action Network, (206) 250-5652

Dave Raney, Sierra Club, (808) 734-4986

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.