EPA accepts that 78 people developing cancer from PCB exposure as a reasonable and acceptable risk.
Water quality standards are developed by the EPA to protect 95% of aquatic species tested (U.S. EPA 1991, 1994). The national water quality standard for salt water PCBs is 0.03 ug/L (U.S. EPA 1998b, 1999b, summarized in Buchman 1999). In 2006, prior to the sinking of the ORISKANY, the State of Florida proposed enacting water quality standards for persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic contaminants such as PCBs to be protective of an exposure equivalent to the “risk of one in a million for the 90th percentile of all Florida adults eating fish found in Florida waters” (FLDEP 2004).34
The new standard for the annual average exposure to PCBs was twice as restrictive as the previous standard, cutting the allowable rate for human exposure from 0.000045 ug/L to 0.000023 ug/L. (F.A.C. 62-302.530). However the Navy concluded that this standard was developed for human health and therefore was not applicable to the ecological risk assessment, which permitted the disposal of PCBs aboard the Ex-USS ORISKANY. Rather, the value of 0.03 ug/L recommended by the national guidance as protective of aquatic organisms was used as the most conservative ecological risk benchmark, as well it was used to calculate the toxic effects from PCB exposure to aquatic life. The Navy stated: “Because the Ex-ORISKANY is to be sunk outside of the territorial waters of the State of Florida, the State of Florida Water Quality Standards are not legally applicable.”35 State of Florida waters extend 9 nautical miles from land, whereas the vessel was sunk 22.5 miles from land.
HUMAN HEALTH RISK
On May 17, 2006, the Navy sunk the Ex-USS ORISKANY as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida in accordance with the National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs (BMP). The total cost of environmental remediation for the sinking of the Ex-USS ORISKANY was $11.89 million. Even at that cost, they were unable to remove all of the PCBs and other hazardous substances, and thus real
costs were environment.
The EPA and its Science Advisory Board accepted the Navy’s conclusions that the risks associated with sinking the vessel were negligible and that the sinking would result in a material value to sports fisheries. On this basis, the EPA issued the risk-based disposal permit for the sinking of the PCB contaminated vessel. However, the environmental implications of such a decision are only now being realized, 5 years later, that the Navy’s data and their risk- based assumptions were seriously flawed.
According to data from an ongoing study conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as part of the
concentrations in fish caught at the Ex-USS ORISKANY site are now more than twice that of the EPA’s forecasted levels. All liquid PCBs were removed from the vessel prior to sinking; therefore all documented PCB leaching is from solid PCBs. Thirty-three percent of all fish sampled post-sinking in the vicinity of the Ex- USS ORISKANY had PCB concentrations above 20 parts per billion (ppb), the EPA screening level. Twenty-one percent of all fish sampled post-sinking had PCB concentrations above 50 ppb, the Florida Department of Health fish advisory threshold. Total PCB concentrations in fish samples increased 1,446% on average from pre-sinking to post-sinking.
BASEL ACTION NETWORK