Study on Cruise Ships' Waste Will Continue

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
According to the PI Reporter, work will continue on a study of whether it is feasible and desirable for the 150 Alaska-bound cruise ships that visit Seattle's waterfront every summer to pump their wastewater ashore rather than dumping it in the ocean. The study is being undertaken by the county's wastewater division and the Port of Seattle in light of the new $60 million cruise terminal being developed by the port at Terminal 91 in Interbay.

The new terminal is set to debut in April 2008. A separate project to expand its capacity for handling storm water and sewage at Interbay could be outfitted to transmit the summer cruise waste to Magnolia's West Point Treatment Plant. During a weeklong cruise, a 3,000-passenger cruise ship can generate 210,000 gallons of sewage, 1 million gallons of greywater generated by sinks and bathtubs, and 37,000 tons of bilge water, according to America's Living Oceans, the Pew Ocean Commission's Report cited by the resolution.

That sludge -- which is the concentrated byproduct of the process used by the cruise ships to treat their wastewater to standards set for its disposal in the Puget Sound -- may be dumped into the ocean 12 miles from shore. The treated wastewater can be dumped within 1 mile of the port berth while the ship is traveling at 6 knots.

Toting a sealed cup of sludge that he passed around to council members, Grausz said that studies have shown that dumping it into the ocean does not have a significant impact on the environment. Locally, environmentalists have expressed concerns that dumping sewage along the overlapping travel paths of Alaska-bound cruise ships leaving the Strait of Juan de Fuca could fuel algal blooms that strip oxygen from water and can make shellfish poisonous to people, despite being in the open ocean. The average Alaska-bound cruise ship generates about 28,000 gallons of sewage sludge during the seven-day trip from Seattle; this year's scheduled 150 departures to Alaska will produce 4.2 million gallons of sewage sludge in all. Some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, have committed to drying and burning all of their sewage sludge. The ashes can be dumped into the ocean or sent ashore, much like the original brown liquid. Most of the standards to which the cruise lines are held in the Puget Sound are stricter than the regulations detailed in state and federal law due to a memorandum of understanding signed in 2004 by the Port of Seattle, the North West CruiseShip Association, and Department of Ecology.

That agreement is currently being revised to prohibit cruise ships from dumping their sludge in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which runs 135 miles along the Washington Coast from about Cape Flattery to the mouth of the Copalis River and extends between 25 and 40 miles offshore. Source: PI Reporter

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