Water: Ocean Dumping
Petitions to Revise SINKEX General Permit
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing in the Federal Register the receipt of and inviting public comment on petitions submitted by the Basel Action Network, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity, requesting that EPA take immediate action under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act to protect human health and the environment from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that leach from ships used for the U.S. Navy's Sink Exercise (SINKEX) program.
In 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act) to prohibit the dumping of material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment. See Summary of the MPRSA for an overview of the Act.
The MPRSA implements the requirements of the London Convention, which is the international treaty governing ocean dumping.
EPA's ocean dumping management program regulates ocean dumping to protect the environment from any material that will degrade or endanger human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities.
Virtually all material ocean dumped in the United States today is dredged material (sediments) removed from the bottom of waterbodies in order to maintain navigation channels and berthing areas. Other materials that are currently ocean disposed include fish wastes, human remains, and vessels. Certain materials, such as high-level radioactive waste, medical waste, sewage sludge, and industrial waste, may not be dumped in the ocean.
Ocean dumping cannot occur unless a permit is issued under the MPRSA. In the case of dredged material, the decision to issue a permit is made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, using EPA's environmental criteria and subject to EPA's concurrence. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains an online ocean disposal database for dredged material. For all other materials, EPA is the permitting agency. EPA prepares an annual report of ocean dumping permits for material other than dredged material. EPA is also responsible for designating recommended ocean dumping sites for all types of materials.
EPA has issued General Permits under the MPRSA for the:
- Burial at sea of human remains
- Transportation and disposal of vessels
- Disposal of man-made ice piers in Antarctica
- Transport of target vessels by the Navy ("SINKEX"), including the letter agreement between EPA and the Navy (PDF) (5 pp, 360K, About PDF) that specifies, with regard to PCBs, how the Navy is to proceed with SINKEX activities under this General Permit.
The criteria and procedures for ocean dumping permits and for the designation of ocean dumping sites can be found in EPA's ocean dumping regulations at 40 CFR Parts 220 to 229.