An administrative petition to put a halt to the Navy's practice of sinking contaminated old vessels in the high seas as part of target practice exercises known as SINKEX was filed today by the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Sierra Club. The petition, directed to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, alleges that the decommissioned ships used by the Navy contain a host of toxic materials including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that pose serious threats to the marine environment when sunk. The legal action is timely as the Navy recently announced plans to extend the SINKEX program to the Gulf of Alaska, one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, including commercially important fisheries such as crab, cod, salmon and halibut.
The petition concludes that the current program not only violates U.S and international ocean dumping regulations, but in fact may contaminate waters to such an extent that fish found there will not be fit for human consumption.
"After more than a decade of unchecked dumping and sinking of old naval vessels, the Navy's SINKEX program has raised toxic PCB and contaminant levels in our marine environment, threatening our waters, food supply, local fishing industries and human health," said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "The Sierra Club is joining the Basel Action Network in this important effort to clean up our oceans and promote safe recycling of ships. We hope the Navy will lead by example - as they have with their adoption of hybrid ships - by putting a halt to this arcane dumping practice."
The Navy's SINKEX program allows the Navy to fire on inactive naval warships to practicegunnery and torpedo accuracy while also disposing of unwanted ships at sea. The program has operated under a series of general permits and exemptions from existing environmental laws, namely the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), which implements the London Convention into U.S. law and regulates ocean dumping, and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which regulates the transport and disposal of PCBs. The EPA and Navy admit that PCBs, a suspected carcinogen that has been targeted for global phase out and destruction under the Stockholm Convention, are deposited into the marine environment as a result of SINKEX operations. Recent data from the scuttled aircraft carrier Oriskany reveal that PCBs were leached into surrounding waters at far greater rates than anticipated, resulting in human health threats to those consuming fish from the Florida dump site.
In the petition, BAN and Sierra Club request the EPA Administrator to reevaluate the SINKEX program given the current body of scientific knowledge on PCB leaching and uptake through the marine food chain.
Computer simulation and use of large balloons and clean barges are demonstrated and viable alternative methods to sinking actual ships for the purposes of naval training. According to BAN and Sierra Club, by using such alternatives, the government will lead by example and will uphold President Obama's Executive Order 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance by promoting recycling, and by doing so, will create thousands of 'green jobs' here in the U.S. Recycling recirculates critical metals resources into the marketplace, and reduces reliance on the dangerous and damaging primary metals mining.
"While the EPA and Navy both acknowledge new science on PCBs, they have failed to reevaluate the unimpeded ocean dumping privileges extended to the Navy more than a decade ago," said Colby Self, BAN's Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director. "They have also failed to recognize today's ethic of recycling rather than dumping. It's time we take a more rational approach."