Disposal in the Marine Environment: An Oceanographic Assessment
United States National Research Council Commission on Natural Resources Ocean Disposal Study Steering Committee
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This study reviews and integrates scientific and technical information on ocean disposal to develop concepts for monitoring and regulating this practice. The objective is to provide, as a basis for EPA's future regulatory decisions, a rationale that considers ocean disposal in terms both of the need for ocean disposal, and of the capacity of the marine ecosystem to receive wastes. This objective, agreed upon by the Environmental Protection Agency and the study group, involves the discharge of waste into one medium only--the ocean. The Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 are similar in that they regulate ocean disposal as an isolated waste discharge problem specific to the water medium. Early in the preparation of this report, however, it became clear that the important issues associated with ocean disposal covered here would benefit from an evaluation of the management issues associated with waste discharge in fresh water, on land, or in the air. Therefore, a separate, complementary NRC report on municipal sewage treatment sludge disposal options is now being prepared to determine the most appropriate medium for this specific waste as an example of comprehensive management. The present report is addressed to the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress, but it may also be of interest to members of other federal, state, and local governments, to the scientific community, and to the public at large. For that reason, the report synthesizes broad principles in a format that will be instructive for those who must make policy decisions about disposal in the ocean. The report first describes the current legislation and regulations that form the background of the waste disposal problem. Next, it discusses the amount and properties of waste materials and the processes that affect their distribution and fate in the marine environment; these properties and processes form the general scientific constraints on alternatives for management. The system under which the Environmental Protection Agency currently operates is next evaluated through examination of desirable practices for site selection and site monitoring. The final section offers recommendations for further development of solutions to the problem of incorporating existing scientific information in the management of ocean disposal.