Ocean Dumping Phaseout Deadline for Municipal Sewage Sludge

CED-79-119: Published: Aug 28, 1979. Publicly Released: Aug 28, 1979.

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The purpose of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 is to prevent or strictly limit ocean dumping of any material which would adversely affect human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or the economic potential of ocean resources. Ocean dumping of sewage sludge has adversely affected the marine environment, closed extensive areas to shellfishing, and contributed to conditions such as those in 1976 which resulted in the massive fish kill off the coast of New Jersey and the closing of some beaches on Long Island. Ocean dumping also disregards the potential of recovering resources contained in sludge.

It appears likely that 3 of the 10 major sludge dumpers will not be able to meet the 1981 deadline to cease ocean dumping. These three dumpers accounted for more than half of the sewage sludge dumped in 1978. To comply with the December 31, 1981 deadline and to allow sufficient time to develop and implement long-term solutions to sludge management problems, dumpers in the New York and Northern New Jersey area are considering the adoption of interim disposal measures which are more expensive than ocean dumping and include landfilling, composting, and storage of dewatered, dried sludge. Long-term alternatives to ocean dumping under consideration also pose uncertainties with respect to potential air pollution and ash disposal problems. Resolution of these questions is especially important to dumpers whose interim solutions have limited useful lives. Despite the shortcomings, some momentum has been built up by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to phase out ocean dumping of municipal sewage sludge and to replace this longstanding practice with acceptable alternatives. Some flexibility will be needed for those dumpers who will not meet the program deadline.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: To provide flexibility, the Administrator, EPA, should seek authority from Congress to grant waivers of the deadline on a case-by-case basis to dumpers who demonstrate sincere phaseout efforts and waive the industrial cost recovery requirements on a case-by-case basis, since their enforcement would further impede progress toward phasing out ocean dumping. In addition, the Administrator should make one of the following actions a condition of the waiver: (1) require that all or part of the sewage sludge produced be dumped at a site further off shore; or (2) permit dumpers to continue to use existing sludge dump sites but seek congressional authority to require them to pay the difference between dumping at those sites and a site further off shore. Finally, the Administrator should require land-based alternatives to be properly managed and monitored to minimize adverse effects on surface and ground waters, land, and human health, and an analysis should be made of the potential cumulative effect of combustion alternatives on the ambient air in areas where such alternatives will be concentrated.

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