(Chicago, IL- July 22, 2008) The U.S. Coast Guard is developing a rule that would continue to allow ships to dump cargo into the Great Lakes in violation of the law.
Currently, ships on the Great Lakes dump cargo waste into the waterâ€”even though international and domestic laws prohibit so-called â€œcargo sweepingâ€ or â€œdry cargo dischargeâ€ in any of the internal waterways of the United States. The Coast Guard has allowed the practice for at least 70 years, resulting in the deposition of about 550 tons of coal, limestone, iron ore and taconite into Great Lakes waters annually.
Four conservation groups want dumping in the Great Lakes to stop and support enforcement of federal and international laws to end to the practice. The groups formal submission to the rulemaking is attached.
â€œFor Great Lakes restoration to succeed, we can't use the lakes as a dumping ground,â€ said Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. â€œThe Coast Guard should require ships to dispose of their cargo waste properly, in accordance with existing laws.â€
â€œJust because the practice has been occurring for almost a century doesn't make it right,â€ says Jennifer Nalbone, Campaign Director for Great Lakes United. â€œEveryone needs to do their part. Every change made to improve the health of the Great Lakes will help turn the tide towards a restored ecosystem.â€
Many of the cargo residues -- especially iron ore and taconite -- contain mercury and other toxic metals that can harm wildlife, as well as people who eat fish potentially contaminated by the metals. The practice can also help invasive species such as the zebra and quagga mussels to expand their territories. The environmental impacts of cargo dumping are not adequately understood, and the groups maintain that the health of the Great Lakes is at a precarious tipping point due to a combination of stresses- from habitat alteration to toxic pollution, invasive species and sewage overflows. Without across-the-board improvements the groups warn of massive and potentially irreversible damages to the Great Lakes ecosystem.
â€œThe Coast Guard is dragging its feet to stop the ongoing harm to the Great Lakes,â€ says Mark Mattson, President and Waterkeeper for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. â€œHow much longer will the Great Lakes have to wait to gain the environmental protections they deserve?â€
The Coast Guard proposed rulemaking provided two options. The first would continue the historic practice of dumping tons of cargo into the Great Lakes for an unspecified period of time. Small modifications would ensure that dry cargos are not swept overboard by ships operating in four protected areas already impacted by dumping, including: the Detroit River National Wildlife Refuge in Lake Erie; the Northern Refuge in Lake Michigan; the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron and; Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. Dumping would be restricted but not eliminated in the sensitive areas of Green Bay in Lake Michigan and in the Western Basin of Lake Erie.
The second is a â€œNo-Actionâ€ option would completely and immediately stop dry cargo dumping in the Great Lakes. The four groups support this approach as the Coast Guard presented no reasonable plan to reduce dry cargo dumping by enforcing the law in a way manageable for the shipping industry.
â€œThe Coast Guard proposed the two polarizing optionsâ€“to allow the practice with few limits or impose an immediate ban,â€ said Welch. â€œIf those are the only options we are given, of course we side with protection of the Great Lakes.â€
â€œAs the Coast Guard acknowledges, some control practices are already being implemented voluntarily. While further studies could help inform the process, we believe such practices could be expanded and an effective control program can â€“ and should â€“ be phased in now,â€ says Michael Murray, Staff Scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.
The Coast Guard has prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement as part of its review, which can be viewed online. Go to the Coast Guard's website www.regulations.gov. Enter USCG-2004-19621 as the search term.
Contacts: Lyman Welch, Alliance for the Great Lakes (312) 939-0838 ext. 230 Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United (716) 213-0408 Mark Mattson, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, (416) 861-1237 Michael Murray, National Wildlife Federation, (734) 887-7110
Read the entire comment to the United States Coast Guard