U.S. Water News Online
MIAMI -- The cruise industry has gotten so big that all its
ships together could hold every one of this city's 360,000 residents
with room to spare. And just like cities, cruise lines have to deal
with a nasty problem: the millions of gallons of sewage those people
While the industry is installing equipment that one executive says
makes sewage and other wastewater almost as "clean as Perrier,"
environmentalists, states and some members of Congress are pushing to
toughen what they call outdated marine pollution standards.
"This is really the smart thing to do. Essentially, the cruise
ships sell the marine environment and the healthier the marine
environment is ... that will increase cruise sales," said U.S. Rep.
Sam Farr, D-Calif.
"Massive cruise ships are dumping millions of tons of solid waste,
sewage, and filth into our oceans," said U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin,
D-Ill. "We can't afford to ignore this issue while vacation cruisers
continue to leave behind a wake of destructive pollution."
They have worked on the Clean Cruise Ship Act with two
environmental groups, the Bluewater Network and Oceana. Alaska,
California and Maine have already passed similar laws.
But the cruise industry argues the new standards aren't based on
science and that most water pollution comes from sources on land. The
lines are waiting for federal Environmental Protection Agency data
due in a few months that will show how well the new treatment systems
worked on wastewater dumped in Alaska.
"Public policy dictates that we make good informed decisions based
on science and not based on two polarized groups," said Michael Crye,
president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, an industry
group that represents companies like Carnival Corp. and Royal
Caribbean Cruises Ltd. He said complying with the bill would cost
billions of dollars.
Currently, the federal Clean Water Act from the 1970s lets cruise
ships dump raw sewage anywhere outside of a 3-nautical mile limit
from U.S. shores. Inside that territorial water boundary, cruise
ships can release sewage only after reducing its content of fecal
coliform, a harmful bacteria found in human feces.
The industry group has voluntarily agreed to exceed those rules.
It says member lines treat all sewage and discharge it only when
ships are at least 4 nautical miles from shore (12 miles for Royal
Caribbean) and moving at least 6 knots to better disperse it. The
same distances are used for the "gray water" drained from showers,
sinks and washing machines. Each ship generates up to 1 million
gallons of wastewater per week.
Environmentalists argue that self-imposed rules aren't enough.
They note that companies can't be prosecuted if they violate the
rules, and say that monitoring for compliance is spotty, at best.
Farr and Durbin plan to reintroduce their bill in Congress, where
it died last year after receiving little support. It would apply to
cruise ships able to carry at least 250 passengers.
Under the act, cruise ships from 12 to 200 nautical miles from
U.S. coasts could discharge sewage, bilge water or other wastewater
only if they are treated to reduce levels of fecal coliform and other
pollutants to meet standards much stricter than current law.
Ships within 12 nautical miles of U.S. shores couldn't release any
treated or untreated wastewater. Cruise companies would have three
years to meet the standards. By 2015, all pollutants would have to be
eliminated from wastewater before dumping. The Coast Guard would test
wastewater samples for compliance.
The cruise industry isn't alone in its opposition to the bill.
While the EPA appreciates the attention it brings to water quality,
it's premature to establish new national standards without the Alaska
data, said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator of the EPA's
Office of Water.
The industry also argues it doesn't get credit from its detractors
for installing the $2 million wastewater cleaning devices without any
law requiring it. Thirty percent of the roughly 120 council member
ships have the systems, Crye said. They separate clean water from
sludge, which is disposed of on land.
The water produced is "completely without color, without odor.
Some executives in the cruise line industry have drank it publicly,"
said Rich Pruitt, director of environmental programs for Royal
Caribbean, which has pledged to install the systems on all of its 29
ships by 2008.
Grumbles said that although the water quality is better, "I would
not say it's safe enough to drink."
Teri Shore of the Bluewater Network acknowledges that the advanced
treatment systems on many cruise ships "are a huge improvement over
the conventional ones."
But "these systems don't remove everything. They remove the very
basic contaminants found in sewage, but it doesn't remove nitrogen,
metals or any other pollutants that might get into that system," she
Crye said he doesn't believe that is true, but "until we see the
EPA data, we don't really know how effective these systems are at
removing some of those things."
He also pointed to a study by the Pew Oceans Commission that said
80 percent of ocean pollution came from land-based sources, and
cruise ships were responsible for less than 1 percent.
"Frankly, we're meeting standards in Alaska that exceed in all
cases their municipal wastewater treatment systems," he said.
But sewage treatment plants nationwide often have to meet more
requirements than cruise ships, Grumbles said.
The proposed act wouldn't change federal law on garbage dumping or
air pollution. Paper and food waste has to be ground down and dumped
at least 3 nautical miles from land. Metal and glass has to be
shredded, bagged and discharged at least 12 nautical miles from land.
Cruise lines have also agreed to try to do better than those rules
and minimize dumping.
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