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For Immediate Release, April 11, 2012

Contact:  Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340 ext. 1020
Colby Self, Basel Action Network, (206) 250-5652
Emily Jeffers, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5309
Dave Raney, Sierra Club, (808) 734-4986

Petition Seeks to Stop Flow of Toxic PCBs From Sunken Ships Bombed for Navy Target Practice

New Coalition Formed to Protect Human Health and Marine Environment

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity has joined the Basel Action Network and Sierra Club in their effort to eliminate dangerous chemicals from our oceans. The coalition formally petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency today to regulate toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) released into the ocean as a result of the Navy’s Sinking Exercise (SINKEX) Program.  

Through the SINKEX program, the Navy fires on and bombs inactive warships for practice and ultimately sinks the vessels at sea. The old ships contain toxic materials, including carcinogenic PCBs that leach into the ocean, bioaccumulate in fish and other animals, and create hazards at all levels of the food web. The petition urges the EPA to end its exemption of the SINKEX Program from ocean dumping laws that would protect marine life from dangerous chemicals.

“The Center is thrilled to join the campaign to protect our oceans from toxic threats. Our laws require PCBs to be disposed of in a responsible manner — the Navy shouldn’t get a free pass,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.  

"Vessels bombed and sunk during Navy target practice are putting fish, whales, and dolphins at risk of absorbing cancer-causing chemicals," said Dave Raney of the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter. "It's time for the EPA and the Navy to clean up this dangerous practice."

In the past decade alone, the Navy disposed of 109 vessels at sea by using them as targets in torpedo and gunnery practice.  While studies that the EPA relied upon to exempt SINKEX from the Toxic Substances Control Act estimated between 30 and 100 pounds of PCBs would remain on board targeted vessels, a recent study demonstrated these vessels could in fact contain over 700 pounds of solid PCBs. In addition, concentrations of PCBs in fish samples taken near a sunken vessel increased 1,446 percent on average from pre-sinking to post-sinking; 33 percent of the fish sampled post-sinking had PCB concentrations above that recommended by the EPA as safe for human consumption. 

“The Navy’s ocean dumping program essentially throws tax dollars overboard, while at the same time polluting our seas,” said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network. “Recycling is the solution here, it’s not only the environmentally responsible thing to do, but it also makes economic sense by creating recycling jobs here in the U.S. and by recirculating tons of steel, aluminum and copper into the domestic manufacturing marketplace.”

PCBs are well-known cancer-causing chemicals whose manufacture, use and distribution have been banned in the United States since 1979. Once released into the environment, they persist for many years and accumulate in the marine food chain. Many scientists believe there is no safe level of exposure to PCBs. “The health of our oceans and our children requires these PCBs to be contained. The Navy’s supposed to protect us, not hurt us,” said Jeffers. 

Today’s petition asks the EPA to amend Navy’s permit to require removal of all materials containing PCBs to the maximum extent practicable and to require that no disposed materials contain PCBs in concentrations greater than 50 parts per million. The Navy currently removes solid PCBs only if they are “readily detachable.” Additionally, BAN, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity are asking the EPA to require additional studies on the effects of PCB-contaminated materials.

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