Worker scrapping ship at Alang scrap yard
The US Congress and the Bush administration reversed a
moratorium against toxic waste ship dumping. Instead they will set
aside $20 million to be used for a pilot project next year to
export up to four vessels from the rusting National Defense Reserve
Fleet as well as sinking ships at sea for artificial reefs.
If the government deems the pilot project a success, the total
number of ships that could be exported abroad by the US would be
around 300-400 over the next few years. These ships are known to
contain significant quantities of hazardous asbestos and
polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs.
In the past US ships have gone to India, a major destination for
hazardous ship scrap. They end up on once pristine beaches of
India, where workers thre scrap the ships without any protection.
Toxic waste is released into the environment. The only ones who
profit are the ship owners. But the US has not sold a vessel to
overseas markets for scrapping since 1994.
The new pilot project agreement reverses a moratorium put in
place by the Clinton administration because of the concerns about
human health and the environment in ship scrapping nations. Many
thousands of workers are routinely hurt in accidents and exposed to
cancer causing asbestos and other harmful substances while cutting
and breaking apart ships to recover and recycle the steel
Ravi Agarwal from the Basel Action Network in India said "the
United States professes to uphold the principle of environmental
justice that calls for no peoples be disproportionately victimised
by toxic burdens. But this principle apparently only applies within
US borders, as developing countries will get these toxic ships and
their inevitable pollution and worker health damage simply because
we are poor."
If the ships are exported to China or India for example, the
decision would very likely be in violation of the Basel
Convention's obligations as well as US law.
Under the Basel Convention, ships that are to be disposed and
contain hazardous contaminants in harmful amounts are hazardous
wastes. Since the US is not a party to the Basel Convention, other
countries belonging to the Basel Convention such as India or China,
will be forbidden from accepting waste ships from the US without a
special bilateral or multilateral agreement that is not less strict
than the Basel Convention.
But the export will violate the Toxics Substances Control Act in
the US which places a strict prohibition on the export of PCBs in
any amount from the US
We want the ships to be decontaminated prior to export.
Decontamination is particularly easy in the case of the National
Defense Reserve Fleet because the ships are not seaworthy in any
case and will need to be towed to any future destination.
We don't want to prevent developing countries from receiving
clean raw materials for recycling, but it is unacceptable that poor
countries become the toxic waste handlers for the rich. If the
export of recyclable steel is really the object then export
recyclable steel. Don't export an asbestos and PCB clean-up
We have selected 50 ships which might be scrapped soon. We have
asked the owners of these ships to declare that their ships will be
decontaminated before scrapping in Asian countries. Until that time
we will follow and monitor these (and other) ships.
We need YOUR help to spot these ships and
identify other ships that are in danger of sailing towards the
beaches of Asia without being decontaminated.