Canada's refusal to accept a hazardous waste shipment from
a U.S. military base in Japan left U.S. authorities scrambling to find at least a temporary home for the unwanted cargo now aboard a Chinese-owned ship.
Environmentalists planned to picket at the Port of Seattle in an attempt to persuade local longshoremen not to unload 14 containers holding electrical transformers contaminated with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the freighter Wen He.
Longshoremen's union officials declined comment, but sources familiar with the situation said the union had agreed to unload the ship's other cargo and leave the PCB-laden containers on board.
The U.S. Coast Guard will not allow the containers
to be unloaded in Seattle without a special permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The United States prohibits imports of foreign-produced PCBs, even from its own military facilities overseas, but the EPA can grant a special permit to allow the containers to be stored in the country for up to 30 days.
The U.S. Department of Defense was negotiating last Wednesday with the EPA over what to do with the shipment, but had not yet reached an agreement, said Mark MacIntyre, a spokesman for the EPA office in Seattle.
A Coast Guard official said the shipping agent handling the cargo had found at least five countries willing to take the PCBs, but it was unclear how long containers would be allowed to remain in Seattle before heading to a new destination.
An Ontario disposal company had originally agreed to accept the 14 containers but Canadian authorities refused to allow the Port of Vancouver to handle the shipment, after complaints from environmentalists.