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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

U.S. Lets Rusting Hulks Poison Waters, Environmentalists Say

SACRAMENTO (CN) - The U.S. Maritime Administration and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters are refusing to comply with Congress' orders to dispose of more than 130 decaying ships, the National Defense Reserve Fleet, and are letting the rusting hulks poison public waters with lead, mercury, oil, asbestos, PCBs and other toxins and carcinogens, environmental groups claim in Federal Court.

Congress ordered the defendants to dispose of the ships, which are not operational and will never be returned to service. They are "roped together in long lines of corroding metal hulks - a 'ghost fleet' awaiting final disposal." The ghost fleet is rotting away in three places: Suisun Bay, in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary; the James River near Fort Eustis, Va.; and the Gulf of Mexico near Beaumont, Texas.

The U.S. Maritime Administration has determined that the hulks in Suisun Bay have leaked more than 18 tons of heavy metals, including hexavalent chromium, copper and lead. The ships also leak waste oil, lead, PCBs and other toxins.

Congress has repeatedly set deadlines for defendants to dispose of the vessels, and the defendants have repeatedly blown them off. Now the defendants have a "disposal plan" that involves scraping the hulls in Alameda Calif., without conducting an environmental impact report first, and without evaluating what the enormous loads of crap scraped off will do to the environment.

Plaintiffs "Arc Ecology, San Francisco Baykeeper, and the National Resources Defense Council ... (seek) to compel defendants to evaluate the environmental threats posed by their plan for the management and disposal of NRDF non-retention vessels and to require defendants to comply with state and federal hazardous and solid waste laws". Lead counsel is Michael Wall with the NRDC in San Francisco. See complaint.

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