Cruise ships must be part of the solution

The Daily Astorian

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

home : OPINION

12/31/2007 11:58:00 AM

We welcome them, but their owners must reckon with their sewage output
Cruise ships have become an important aspect of Astoria’s economy, but it would be naive to ignore the environmental impacts of these mechanized floating cities.

Enhanced knowledge of the downside of cruise ships was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 20 with an analysis of how they pollute American waters.

No seaside town would be allowed to get away with the inadequate sewage disposal the cruise industry practices. The EPA found ships discharge excess fecal coliform bacteria, chlorine and ammonia. Dissolved metals that are common components of ship piping – copper, nickel and zinc – were found at levels one to four times above national recommended water-quality standards for aquatic life. Sewage sludge, oily waste and nutrients are also pumped overboard.

For much of maritime history, it was assumed oceans were so huge that they could absorb any insult without so much as a blush. We now know better. Recent decades have seen a number of efforts to curtail contaminants that are absorbed in the web of life and passed upward through the food chain to us.

But cruise ships have been allowed to operate with relatively relaxed regulations, even as the industry has dramatically grown. The EPA estimates the 115 cruise ships now operating in U.S. waters produce an average of 21,000 gallons per day of sewage and 170,000 gallons per day of raw graywater that can contain as much bacteria as sewage.

Ships are among the most efficient ways of transporting people and products, but this news about water pollution adds to a growing awareness that recreational cruising isn’t as harmless as television commercials make it out to be. Cruise ships produce enormous quantities of greenhouse gases, for example, helping melt the very Alaskan glaciers that many of them include on their itineries.

It is time for cruise companies to live up their pretty brochures by including the cost of adequate pollution control in ticket prices. This should include a meaningful effort to mitigate for greenhouse-gas emissions, perhaps by purchasing and preserving the mature forests that form such lovely backgrounds for passengers’ snapshots.

The time has also come for Congress to force EPA to stop effluent dumping near-shore and in marine sanctuaries, and to make sure that ships comply with the same sewage-treatment standards required of towns like Astoria. EPA has been dragging its heels too long. It only issued its current report after the University of Washington Environmental Law Clinic filed a lawsuit on behalf of Friends of the Earth. Even now, seven years after it was asked to do so, EPA suggested no solutions to counteract the pollution it has identified.

We should continue to offer cruise ships our warmest hospitality. But they must live up to their obligation as guests to leave our ocean and estuary as clean when they leave as when they arrive.

~ by fredfelleman on January 5, 2008.

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