WWII Ships Leaking Lead Into San Francisco Bay To Be Removed
San Francisco, CA, United States (AHN) – The federal government has agreed to remove World War II-era vessels that have been moored in Suisun Bay for decades.
Dubbed the ghost fleet, the ships have been leaking fuel and lead into the estuary, which connects to the San Francisco Bay.
The Maritime Administration will remove and recycle 52 vessels over the course of seven years to settle a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The rusting vessels, part of a fleet reserved after WWII for national emergencies, have leached an estimated 20 tons of heavy metals including zinc, copper and cadmium, according to a study commissioned by the Maritime Administration. An additional 50 tons of metals is expected to fall into the bay over time if the ships are not removed.
Twenty ships that are in the poorest condition wll be removed first, by a deadline set for Sept. 30, 2012. The vessels will be cleaned of marine growth and exterior paint at a local dry-dock before they are moved. The remaining ships will be cleaned on site within two years and taken from the bay by 2017.
Under the settlement, the Maritime Administration will also clean horizontal surfaces of the vessels every 90 days to prevent peeling paint from falling into the water.
The agency is also required to conduct monthly and quarterly inspections of the ships, and to test water runoff samples. No new ships with excess flaking will be allowed to dock at the site.
Environmental groups sued the government in 2007 to end the discharge of toxic metals from the decaying fleet. The Regional Water Board joined the lawsuit a year later.
In January, a federal court ruled that the Maritime Administration was illegally polluting the bay and unlawfully storing hazardous waste.
The case, which included a 1997 internal memo in which the agency warned “lead paint waste … will be classified as hazardous,” was set for trial in June. The Maritime Administration began removing ships for the first time in October last year, towing two vessels to BAE Systems San Francisco for cleaning and then dismantling the ships in a facility in Brownsville, Tx. Early this year, the agency removed and recycled another three vessels.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that sued, Suisun Bay is a critical habitat for several endangered and threatened species such as Chinook salmon and delta smelt. Moreover, the state of California has warned residents to limit consumption of fish from the bay because of pollution levels.
“Settling this litigation means that, at long last, MARAD [Maritime Administration] will join nearly 4,000 other Bay Area businesses and government agencies in complying with the federal Clean Water Act,” Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the Bay Regional Water Board, said in a statement.
The federal government has not provided a cost for the removal and recycling operations. The contracts awarded to the Texas company that dismantled three ships early this year cost more than $3 million.