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Feds May Regulate Vessel Wastewater Discharges

BODconcentrationsThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting public comments on a draft report that evaluates the types of wastewater discharged from commercial fishing vessels and non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length. The final report will be provided to Congress, which may use it to regulate incidental discharges including deck run-off and gray water from certain vessels.

The report, “Study of Discharges Incidental to Normal Operation of Commercial Fishing and Other Non-Recreational Vessels Less than 79 Feet,” evaluates water discharges from fishing vessels, tugboats, water taxis, tour boats, towing and salvage vessels, small research vessels, a fire boat and a supply boat. The 61 vessels were sampled in 15 separate cities and towns in nine states across multiple geographic regions.

“EPA developed the draft Report to Congress at Congress’ request to provide them the information they needed for their decision making about how best to treat incidental discharges from commercial fishing vessels and other small non-recreational vessels,” said Enesta Jones of the EPA.

A key finding shows that both commercial fishing vessels and non-recreational vessels discharge a wide variety of effluents during their normal operation. This study focuses on nine discharges types from engines, bilges, fish holds, decks, and graywater activities because these types can release oils, heavy metals, toxic organics, oxygen-depleting substances, nutrients, and endocrine disrupting compounds to ambient waters in quantities that may exceed the National Recommended Water Quality Criteria (NRWQC), according to the EPA.

EPA found that the discharges with the greatest potential to impact surface water quality include deck washdowns, fish hold effluent, graywater, bilgewater and marine engine effluent. As an example, deck washdown from utility vessels had elevated concentrations of dissolved and total metals and certain deck washdown samples also contained pollutants such as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5), total suspended solids (TSS), nonylphenols, total phosphorous and total residual chlorine, all of which are associated with detergents and disinfectants. Chapter three (PDF) of the report provides a complete analysis of the discharges.

The EPA concludes that these vessels may have the potential to impact the aquatic environment and/or human health. While the study finds that most individual vessels have only a minimal environmental impact, the impacts caused by these vessels are potentially significant where there is high vessel concentration, low water circulation, or environmentally-stressed water bodies.

Public comments will be accepted for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register. The EPA will evaluate the comments before finalizing the report for Congress.

Congress requested that the EPA conduct the study in 2008 before regulating the incidental discharges of these types of vessels, which were exempted from regulation under the Clean Water Act, reports Michigan Live’s green blog.

EPA also has taken steps to address discharges from recreational vessels.

In June 2008, EPA published a draft general permit regarding incidental discharges, which would have required recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length to implement controls to prevent certain pollutants from being discharged in deck runoff, bilge water, and other sources of runoff, reports the blog.

Instead, Congress passed legislation delaying the EPA’s ability to regulate incidental discharges for two years until July 31, 2010, and exempting recreational vessels altogether, reports the blog.

It’s a different story in the international shipping industry, which has been pushing the United Nations to establish a set of rules for maximum emissions instead of being ruled by various national and regional regulations on ship emissions.

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