Water Policy Report – 5/11/2009

Activists are urging EPA to update its standards for sewage discharges from large ships, arguing the agency has neglected to update the standards to account for new technology since they were issued more than 30 years ago.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) filed an April 28 petition with EPA asking the agency to set new sewage discharge standards for cruise ships and other large vessels. “The current regulatory program for the treatment of sewage from these and other large vessels is woefully inadequate and has failed to keep up with both the growth of the industry and the development of sewage treatment technologies,” FOE says in the petition. The petition is available on

Although ship sewage discharges are exempted from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System standards that govern most point-source discharges, they are regulated under section 312 of the Clean Water Act, which mandates that ships treat sewage before it is discharged into navigable waters.

The new standards are necessary because EPA has not updated its ship sewage standards since they were set in 1976 and the currently mandated technology is not adequate to meet EPA water quality standards, the petition says. Although newer wastewater treatment systems are economically feasible, only 40 percent of cruise ships in U.S. waters have voluntarily installed the systems, the petition says.

In addition, the standards are necessary because the cruise ship business is rapidly expanding, growing from 500,000 passengers in 1970 to 9.2 million passengers departing from North American ports in 2007, the petition says. Ship size is also growing, with the largest cruise ships having the capacity to discharge 74,000 gallons of sewage a day, the petition says.

“Unless countered by more stringent sewage regulations, this expected industry growth will exacerbate the health and environmental effects of vessel discharges,” the petition says. Ship sewage can lead to human illness contracted through swimming in polluted water or eating contaminated shellfish and can harm aquatic life by creating oxygen-depleted deadzones or scarring coral reefs, the petition says.


~ by fredfelleman on June 9, 2009.

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