Information on Ocean Disposal of Municipal and Industrial Waste

RCED-83-161: Published: May 18, 1983. Publicly Released: May 26, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on issues relating to the ocean disposal of sewage sludge and industrial wastes.

In 1982, about 7.7 million wet tons of sewage sludge and about 1.1 million wet tons of industrial waste were dumped into the ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that, in comparison with 1980, 130 percent more sludge could be generated in coastal areas in the year 2000. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ocean dumping regulations require that materials which unreasonably degrade the marine environment be phased out by December 1981, a federal court subsequently ordered EPA to extensively revise its ocean dumping regulations. GAO found that interest in using the ocean for sewage and industrial disposal continues and could increase in the future. GAO noted that opinions vary regarding the future of ocean dumping of industrial waste. There is a growing interest in an integrated waste management approach to disposal that minimizes human health and environmental risks at an affordable price. The consensus of governmental agencies and the scientific community is that more research is required to assess the risks and costs associated with land- and ocean-based disposal. EPA and NOAA are currently engaged in numerous projects that address this information gap.

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