EPA Allows Cruise Ships to Dump Polluted Graywater 1 Nautical Mile from U.S. Shores

The Environmental Protection Agency today published a permit that will allow cruise ships to dump unlimited quantities of untreated graywater-a harmful pollutant-into the ocean just a mile from U.S. shores.

“The Bush EPA is ignoring its own scientific findings by issuing this permit, which will allow harmful pollution near U.S. shores,” said Marcie Keever, Clean Vessels Campaign Director at Friends of the Earth. “The Environmental Protection Agency knows that pollution from cruise ships and other vessels is out of control and getting worse. This permit will not protect the health of our oceans or the people who use them.”

The permit issued today was a final Clean Water Act General Permit for vessel pollution discharges. The permit allows cruise ships to dump untreated graywater one nautical mile from U.S. shores if they are travelling at speeds above six knots. The permit also requires cruise ships to monitor their graywater discharges only once every three months, leaving them free to ignore malfunctioning systems the other 361 days of the year.

Cruise ship graywater contains contaminants such as oil and grease, metals, pesticides, viruses, fecal coliform bacteria from human sewage, medical and dental waste, detergents, and cleaners. A large cruise ship on a one-week voyage can generate one million gallons-which would fill 33 large swimming pools-of graywater.

The EPA finds in an assessment report to be finalized this month that untreated graywater from cruise ships is above safe levels. Despite this finding, the permit issued today continues to allow cruise ships to discharge such graywater. Significantly, the EPA has also found that it would cost cruise ships only $7.09 per passenger to treat graywater using the best water treatment technology, and yet the permit fails to require treatment of polluted discharges beyond one nautical mile.

The EPA developed the permit in response to litigation from environmental groups. Their lawsuit overturned an erroneous EPA regulation that for the past 35 years exempted all vessels from the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act.

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