Just as we all struggle to find ways to dispose of old cars, the US Navy needed to find a way to dispose of ships that are past their prime. According to the Associated Press, the Navy’s preferred manner of doing so is by playing real, live battleship.
In 2005, the USS America aircraft carrier, a vessel spanning more than three football fields in length, sank after Navy personnel purposefully fired missiles and bombs at it. The ships now rests about three-hundred nautical miles southeast of Norfolk, Virginia. In the past twelve years, this procedure has taken place 109 times. Sixty-four other ships were recycled at approved processing centers.
The Navy stated that sinking ships is not only a means of disposal, but also part of important training exercising that allow for first-hand experience with live-fire and studies on the effectiveness of the munitions. Nonetheless, this practice is at odds with serious environmental concerns.
When the USS America was laid to rest, it took with it around 500 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a chemical banned by the US in 1979. In high concentrations, PCBs are believed to increase the risks for certain types of cancers and have adverse effects on pregnant women, fetuses, and newborns. In addition, other substances, such as lead, asbestos, and mercury are also believed to have been on many ships now resting at the depths of the ocean.
In 1999, the EPA ordered the Navy to document toxic waste on ships more thoroughly. In exchange, the EPA agreed to exempt the Navy from federal pollution laws that prohibited dumping the ocean. Despite this, state officials in Florida have spoken out in reaction to spikes in PCB levels in local fish. There is currently a lawsuit pending against the EPA, alleging failure to safeguard federal waters.
An AP review of naval documents revealed both incomplete records and stark inconsistencies in the disclosures of toxins on ships. The Sierra Club and another environmental group, Basal Action Network, have also joined the litigation against the EPA.
The Navy is defending its policy, arguing that it would be cost-prohibitive to remove all toxic chemicals from every ship. Estimates place the price of doing so at between $500,000 and $600,000 per ship. Naval spokesperson, Christopher Johnson, said, ”Each vessel is put through a rigorous cleaning process that includes the removal, to the maximum extent practicable, of all materials which may degrade the marine environment.”
Despite the costs, opponents of the Navy’s methods maintain that recycling is a better method of disposing of the ships. Richard Jaross of Brownsville, Texas, said that not only is the current practice bad for the environment, but his business could add jobs if the Navy decided to recycle more ships. According to Jaross, ”The waters of the world aren’t dumping grounds for getting rid of old things. It’s totally irresponsible of our government to use them for target practice.”