CEPA Part VI: ocean dumping

Environment Canada regulates the disposal of substances at sea and meets its international obligations under the London Convention 1972, by means of a system of permits under Part VI of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Disposal at sea is permitted only for non-hazardous substances and where it is the environmentally preferable and practical alternative. The majority of the material disposed at sea is dredged material, which must be moved to keep shipping channels and harbours clear for navigation and commerce.

Each application for disposal at sea is evaluated separately to determine if a permit will be issued. Permits typically govern timing, handling, storing, loading, placement at the disposal site, and monitoring requirements.

Over the past year, 86 permits were issued for the disposal of an estimated 4 million tonnes of material. This quantity reflects the amount approved for disposal as opposed to the actual quantity disposed of at sea. Disposal activities are still ongoing for many of the permits issued. No applications were rejected in the past year.

In the Atlantic and Pacific Regions, the number of permits for dredging is expected to increase. In the Quebec Region, maintenance dredging is expected to decline slightly because of spending reductions. No dredging applications are expected in the Prairie and Northern Region. For fisheries waste, the number of permits issued is expected to increase slightly as some plants reopen, but quantities will remain low because of depleted fish stocks.

Disposal site monitoring is an essential component of the Ocean Disposal Program and serves to provide feedback to the permit application review and to help verify that the regulatory controls are adequate. Monitoring data may also guide further research. Monitoring was undertaken at eight sites along three coasts and featured physical surveys of the sea-floor, sediment sampling, chemical analysis of sediments to determine the presence of contaminants and bioassays to examine the toxicity of the sediments. Overall, the results supported the permit decisions: contaminants were found to be below national screening levels and no biological responses were observed. For further details, an annual compendium on these activities is now available from the Marine Environment Division of Environment Canada.

Bioassays are becoming standard assessment tools to evaluate the effects of contaminants in the marine environment. Several standard protocols to assess the quality of municipal and industrial effluents are already in use. Three new sediment bioassays to evaluate trace chemical concentrations on crustacean mortality, sea urchin reproduction and fluorescence from photo-luminescent bacteria have been developed. In addition, the U.S. protocol to evaluate bioaccumulation using a clam species, Macoma sp., is being used. Guidance to aid in the interpretation of these bioassays is being developed to ensure they are applied consistently.

In 1995 and 1997, two pollution gradient studies looked at the field performance of the chemical and biological tools proposed to assess marine sediments for disposal at sea. The first study, at Belledune Harbour, New Brunswick, examined responses to a gradient of metal contamination (primarily cadmium and lead). It verified that the bioassays performed consistently and generally provided support for the chemical screening levels used. The second study in Sydney Harbour, Nova Scotia, was intended to verify similar responses to a gradient of organic contaminants [predominantly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)]. Preliminary results suggest that the bioassays performed well as increasing bioassay responses along the gradient towards the source of contamination were seen. Statistical analysis is now underway.

The Parties to the London Convention 1972 completed a three-year amendment process to update the Convention and address immediate and long-term disposal-at-sea issues by adopting the 1996 Protocol. The Protocol is open to ratification, and Canada intends to ratify it as soon as possible. The changes in the Protocol are reflected in the renewed CEPA. Canada is assisting in the preparation of specific technical guidance to assess permits for each type of waste permitted for disposal at sea in 1996 Protocol.

During 1997-98, work continued on the proposed new environmental assessment procedures and standards for effects on the marine environment. In January 1997, cross-Canada consultations took place on cost recovery through the Financial Administration Act. A proposal to recover $470 per 1000 cubic metres of dredged and excavated soils disposed of at sea has been developed.

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