FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 21, 2007
12:37 PM

CONTACT: Friends of The Earth
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748
Teri Shore: 415-544-0790, ext. 19; cell: (707) 583-4428 tshore@foe.org

 
EPA Finds Cruise Ship Discharges Are Highly Polluted
US EPA response to environmental lawsuit finds that even the best treatment systems don’t remove worst contaminants
 

WASHINGTON - December 21 - A long-overdue assessment of cruise ship pollution in U. S. waters released yesterday by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency found that cruise ships routinely dump massive amounts of poorly treated sewage and highly contaminated raw graywater into harbors and coastal waters.

(The report is available at http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/cruise_ships/disch_assess_draft.html. Key citations follow.)

“This report shows that cruise ship dumping is out of control and is only getting worse with more ships and more passengers,” said Teri Shore, Campaign Director for Marine Programs at Friends of the Earth. “Since the EPA won’t act, here’s all the evidence that Congress needs to step in to ban cruise ship dumping close to shore and in sanctuaries—and require the best treatment everywhere else.”

The report responded to a lawsuit filed by the University of Washington Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of Friends of the Earth in May 2007 seeking a response to a seven-year-old petition calling on the EPA to analyze pollution from the rapidly expanding cruise ship fleet and find ways to prevent environmental harm. The EPA provided detailed pollution data, but no solutions.

The EPA found that cruise ship discharges contain concentrations of bacteria, chlorine, nutrients, metals and other pollutants that often far exceed federal effluent and water quality standards and are harmful to human health and the marine environment. The report estimated that cruise ships 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. Large volumes of sewage sludge and oily water are also routinely dumped overboard.

A majority of sewage samples taken by the EPA from cruise ships equipped with Coast Guard-approved marine sanitation devices (Type II MSDs) violated national effluent limits for both ship and land-based sewage—and often exceeded national water quality criteria at point of discharge. EPA determined that treated sewage and raw graywater from cruise ships contain such high concentrations of bacteria such as fecal coliform, contaminants like chlorine, and nutrients including ammonia that the discharges can degrade water quality, threaten shellfish beds and contaminate beaches and swimming areas—even when diluted.

The report found that even the highly touted Advanced Wastewater Treatment systems required in Alaska are far from perfect. While they produced much cleaner wastewater, treated effluent often did not meet national water quality standards at point of discharge for metals, chlorine or nutrients such as ammonia—all of which can harm the marine environment. The EPA suggested that dilution might solve the problem but also incorporated an overview of equipment that could better remove contaminants.

The EPA said that in 2006, 23 of 28 vessels operated in Alaska using the better systems. About 115 cruise ships operate in U. S. waters and more than 12 million passengers are expected to take a cruise next season. Ships are getting bigger, growing by about 90 feet every five years, the EPA estimated.

EPA cruise ship pollution assessment report citations

Page 2 – 23 Traditional Type II MSD effluent concentrations exceeded the EPA standards for discharges from Type II MSDs. In addition, traditional Type II MSD effluent concentrations exceeded most wastewater discharge standards . . . for secondary treatment from land-based sewage plants.

Page 2 – 25 Given the consistent exceedance of National Recommended Water Quality Criteria for bacteria, traditional Type II MSD effluent may cause, have the potential to cause, or contribute to non-attainment of water quality standards in a given receiving water.

Page 2 – 28 Both traditional Type II MSD and AWT effluent concentrations exceed the National Recommended Water Quality Criteria for total residual chlorine at the end of the pipe.

Page 2 – 29 Several dissolved metals that are common components of ship piping—copper nickel and zinc—were found at levels approximately one to four times above National Recommended Water Quality Criteria for aquatic life.

Page 2 – 32 Average effluent concentrations of ammonia from traditional Type II MSDs and AWTs exceed all of the water body ammonia standards [and] at the end of pipe are likely to exceed NRWQC regardless of the receiving water.

Page 2 – 34 For three pollutants—fecal coliform, total residual chlorine and ammonia—end of pipe discharge levels are high enough that they may not meet NRWQC after mixing when the vessel is at rest.

Page 3 - 19 Untreated cruise ship graywater concentrations exceeded the EPA standards for discharges from Type II MSDs (for fecal coliform and total suspended solids). In addition, untreated graywater concentrations exceeded all wastewater discharge standards for . . . secondary treatment discharge standards from land-based sewage treatment plants.

Page 3 - 21 Given the consistent exceedance of the National Recommended Water Quality Criteria for bacteria, untreated graywater may cause, have the potential to cause or contribute to non-attainment of water quality standards in a given receiving water.

Page 4 – 10 To date the U.S. has prosecuted over 75 cases involving intentional discharges of oily bilge waste from vessels in general, with over $150 million collected in criminal fines since 2000. Many of the major cruise ship companies calling on U.S. ports have been convicted of such violations, including, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line Limited. As a result of the prosecutions, all the companies have been at one time placed in probation with a requirement to implement Environmental Compliance Plans.

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