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Policy Statement 286 - Waste Disposal in Ocean and Coastal Waters

 
Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on November 13, 2020
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on December 9, 2020
Adopted by the Board of Direction on January 16, 2021

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports:

  • Continued enforcement of the statutes regulating the disposal of wastes into ocean and coastal waters, especially the Marine Protection,
    Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), and the Clean Water Act (CWA).
  • Continued research of the long-term impact of waste disposal on ocean and coastal waters. 
  • Updated regulations based on research, directing the quality and limiting the quantity of waste dumping and municipal sewage discharges in ocean and coastal waters to levels that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
  • Cooperation with international programs for limiting waste disposal in coastal waters.

Issue

There are short- and long-term costs and environmental consequences associated with ocean disposal of solid and liquid wastes and treated wastewater, including the impact of floating solid waste islands and plastics, and the reduction in near shore salinity. These concerns have led lead to increased restrictions and the need for increased enforcement on marine disposal. 

Rationale

Ocean and coastal waters provide vast resources of enormous ecological and economic value. In the past, disposal of large quantities of wastes in ocean and coastal waters was practiced without adequate knowledge of the fate of these wastes and their effect on the marine environment. Waste dumping has been indiscriminate and has resulted in incidents of marine pollution and poisoning of marine biota with chemicals that can ultimately be toxic to humans. Bacterial contamination has resulted in increased beach closures, infections in marine wildlife, and suspensions of harvesting from shellfish beds. Freshwater discharges for treated wastewater facilities are changing the salinity and ecosystems of near shore aquatic communities.

Coastal disposal may be acceptable provided that the materials are of comparable quality to that of receiving ocean or bay and that the disposal would not significantly impact the renewability of aquatic resources, especially in bays and estuaries. In order to develop adequate marine management programs and regulation, continued research is required on the fate of pollutants and chemicals introduced into these waters to include bottom sediment analysis. This involves monitoring of ocean environments and coastal modeling to assess the impact of fish and wildlife resources on their support systems. In addition, targeted research is recommended for developing effective sustainable methods of reducing (e.g. beneficial reuse and dry land disposal) the volume of waste and wastewater being disposed in coastal and ocean water environments.

ASCE Policy Statement 286
First Approved in 1982


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