definition when “placement of matter serves an alternative purpose other than mere disposal thereof, provided that such placement is not contrary to the aims of this Convention” (Article III (1)(b)(ii)).
In other words, the act of sinking vessels at sea for the purpose of disposal is not considered ocean dumping if the sunken vessel serves an alternative purpose and provided that alternative purpose does not create hazards to human health, living resources or marine life, damages amenities or interferes with other legitimate uses of the sea.
Consistent with these parameters governing placement, Article 4 of the Convention prohibits the dumping of all materials specified in Annex I, otherwise known as the black list. This list was created due to the strong likelihood that these contaminants create hazards to human health, living resources and marine life due to their hazardous characteristics. These characteristics include not only toxicity, but the
Obsolete vessels at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in Northern California will either be recycled or sunk via SINKEX or artificial reefing by 2017. While MARAD acknowledges that more than 21 tons of lead, zinc, barium, copper and other toxic materials have been deposited in the bay from the deteriorating fleet, it remains unclear just how many tons of toxic materials above “trace contaminant” levels are deposited on the sea floor when vessels are sunk. Image Source: Flickr user NOAA’s National Ocean Service under Creative Commons agreement.
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propensity to bio-accumulate and bio-magnify in the human food chain.
This black list includes all organohalogen compounds (e.g. PCBs), except in cases where
only “trace contaminants” are present.2
contaminants were not defined in the original Convention, however the U.S. EPA provides the following guidance: “Trace contaminants are not defined in terms of numerical chemical limits, but rather in terms of persistence, toxicity, and bioaccumulation that will not cause an unacceptable adverse impact after dumping.”3 The EPA suggests that when there is a lack of evidence suggesting unacceptable adverse impacts caused by contaminants after dumping, one assumes contaminants are absent or only present as trace contaminants. “Because the assessment of trace contaminants depends upon the determination of the potential for effects, an assessment cannot be made until the
interpreted. Only then can effects, and thus the presence of materials as other than trace contaminants, be determined.”4 By this rationale, the EPA first must allow ocean disposal of contaminants, and then only after post-sinking biological studies are conducted can the EPA determine if contaminants exceeded trace parameters. “…Marine organisms are regarded, in a sense, as analytical instruments for determining the environmentally adverse consequences (if any) of any contaminants present.”5
Only recently has such a study been conducted on a sunken naval vessel, however, these results have not been publicly released, until now (see Human Health Risks section below). According
the EPA do
to this new ORISKANY,
fish data from the