Navy sticks with SINKEX
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September 11, 2012
Navy sticks with SINKEX

The federal government has ended one vessel sinking program and is under attack for continuing another.  Environmental groups have long criticized the sinking of vessels because of lax requirements to remove toxic substances such as polychlorinated biphenys (PCBs) from vessels before they are sunk.  The groups also argue that millions of dollars of recyclable metals are lost with the sunken ships.
Artificial reefing ended
Those arguments apparently contributed to a decision by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) to adopt a new policy that “effectively terminates” the program that allowed the scuttling of old ships for artificial reefs, reported environmentalists in August.  The change in policy was not publicly announced, but became effective May 29, 2012, reported the Basel Action Network (BAN) based on a communication from the MARAD.
MARAD’s use of vessels to form artificial reefs began in 1972.  Since then approximately 45 ships have been disposed of at sea.  The new policy excludes from artificial reefing consideration of any vessel that was built before 1985 (and likely to contain PCBs).  Currently, all 38 “nonretention” ships in MARAD’s National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), which primarily comprises ex-Navy vessels, were built before 1985 and thus, will be sent to domestic recyclers.  The MARAD now owns about 125 vessels, only one of which was built after 1985.  This is the only vessel that could be considered for artificial reefing when designated for disposal, but only if it is not viable for recycling within 2 years after disposal designation, says BAN.
Sinking near Hawaii
The situation is different for vessels the Navy uses for target practice, which are then allowed to sink.  The sinking exercise (SINKEX) program attracted renewed attention this summer when the Navy sunk three vessels off Hawaii.  This was the first time since 2010 that the Navy announced it had resumed SINKEX.  Sinking of a fourth vessel is planned for later this year, according to Earthjustice. 
In July 2011, Earthjustice represented environmentalists in a suit that claimed that the EPA failed to adequately regulate the ocean dumping of PCBs in SINKEX vessels.  On September 7, 2012, Earthjustice was joined by BAN, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity in filing a supplement to the earlier suit with the U.S. District Court of Northern California.  The supplement cites new data from a Florida study that claimed to find that PCBs are leaching from a sunken SINKEX vessel into the marine food chain.
The lawsuit asserts that SINKEX operations violate the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Furthermore, the groups claim, the EPA must initiate rules to regulate the marine disposal of PCBs during ship sinking exercises to protect human health and the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury.

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