The Bush administration has agreed to halt the export of old toxin-laden Navy ships to England for disposal until it assesses the environmental risks involved. The Sierra Club and the Basel Action Network, represented by Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner, had sued to stop the ships from sailing, but a judge allowed the first four — the Caloosahatchee, Canisteo, Compass Island, and Canopus — to be towed out of the James River in mid-October. The remaining nine vessels will stay where they are at least until April 2004, when the environmental analysis will be completed. The plaintiffs argued that the export plan violates the Toxic Substances Control Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, that the facility in England is not equipped to handle such contaminated ships, and that there are ship-breaking facilities in the US that are equipped to do the job. The ships together contain more than 350 tons of PCBs, 620 tons of asbestos, and 470 tons of old fuel oil.
At least five domestic companies have protested the export of these ships and expressed strong interest in bringing the jobs to their facilities.
“These ships are the United States’ environmental problem, and we can and should deal with them here,” said Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner. “We’re concerned that these ships are the tip of a toxic iceberg consisting of over 150 other decaying, poison-laden US ships that the Bush administration plans to send to developing countries like India and Bangladesh, where environmental and worker-protection standards are nearly non-existent.”
“This scheme is sadly misguided, said Mike Town of Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter. “We have facilities that can do this job right here in Virginia and provide much needed jobs while sending a signal to the world that we solve our problems, we don’t just export them.”
Meanwhile in Europe, the protests are growing daily as the four ships approach that continent. European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom has protested and written letters to the US asking that the ships not be sent to England. Many European parliamentarians have objected to the ship export and the issue is on the agenda of the full European Parliament in Strasbourg. This week, the Basel Action Network will present its concerns over the plan to the Basel Convention delegates in Geneva.