EPA Asked to Update 30-Year-Old Sewage Standards for Ships

For Immediate Release

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Marcie Keever (415) 544-0790, ext. 223
Nick Berning, (202) 222-0748

EPA Asked to Update 30-Year-Old Sewage Standards for Ships

Outdated rules allow dumping of inadequately treated sewage from cruise ships and other large ocean-going vessels

SAN FRANCISCO - Friends of the Earth issued a petition
to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today requesting that the
EPA update standards governing sewage dumping from large ships. The
environmental group said current vessel sewage discharge standards that
allow the use of 30-year-old technology are outdated and fail to
protect water quality, and that far better treatment technology exists
and has been in use in some cruise ships for years. The petition was
drafted for Friends of the Earth by the Kathy and Steve Berman
Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law.

“The EPA itself acknowledged, almost nine years ago, that current
‘standards … may no longer be sufficiently stringent in light of
available new technologies,’” said Marcie Keever, Clean Vessels
Campaign Director at Friends of the Earth. “Not only are these
standards outdated, but the treatment systems tested by the EPA did not
meet even the EPA’s extremely outmoded criteria. We are hopeful that,
under a new administration, the EPA will finally compel all large
ships, especially cruise ships, dumping waste in U.S. waters to use
better technology. We would like vessel sewage standards brought into
the 21st century.”

In recent years, the pollution of U.S. coastal waters and oceans has
led to public beach closings, shellfish bed contamination, dead zones,
and permanent damage to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Sewage
discharges from cruise ships and large ocean-going vessels endanger
marine environments and public health because they release
disease-causing microorganisms, viruses and excessive levels of
nutrients. A single large cruise ship on a one-week voyage can generate
over 200,000 gallons of raw sewage, which can end up being dumped
untreated or without adequate treatment into U.S. waters.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

The Clean Water Act requires all ships with onboard toilets to
install certified sanitation devices; large ships must treat sewage
prior to discharge only when they are within three nautical miles of
U.S. shores. In addition to treating sewage, sanitation devices can
hold untreated sewage for onshore pump-out or for dumping after the
ship has traveled more than three nautical miles from shore.

“Type II” marine sanitation devices are the most common type of
sanitation devices used on cruise ships and other vessels with large
volumes of sewage and other human wastewater. Although current
standards require Type II devices to reduce fecal coliform bacteria
counts to no greater than 200 fecal coliform bacteria per 100
milliliters, “EPA data indicate that the fecal coliform bacteria
concentration in discharges from cruise ships with Type II devices can
exceed the EPA’s limits by over 10,000 times,” said Keever.

“This level of noncompliance is unacceptable when new technology is
available. Newer, advanced wastewater treatment systems generally
improve treatment and disinfection compared to traditional Type II
devices. Indeed, this cleaner technology is already in use in 40
percent of the U.S. cruise ship fleet, and there’s no reason the other
60 percent shouldn’t also meet this standard,” said Keever.

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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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