Backgrounder: Disposal at Sea Regulations and Disposal at Sea Form Regulations

Each year in Canada, two to three million tonnes of material are disposed of at sea. Most of this is dredged material that must be moved to keep shipping channels and harbours clear for navigation and commerce. Only those substances listed in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 may be considered for disposal at sea including, dredged material, fisheries waste, ships, inert matter, uncontaminated organic matter and bulky substances. Discharges from land or from normal ship operations (such as bilge water) are not considered disposal at sea, but are subject to other controls.

All disposal at sea is controlled federally by a system of permits issued under CEPA, 1999. The objective of the ocean disposal legislation under CEPA 1999 and its regulations is to prevent marine pollution from the uncontrolled disposal of waste or other matter at sea. Permits are granted on a case-by-case basis after an application and review process. Permits typically govern timing, handling, storing, loading, placement at the disposal site, and monitoring requirements. The permit assessment phase involves public notice, an application that provides detailed data, a scientific review and payment of fees. This system has been in place since 1975 and was included in CEPA1988.

The CEPA 1999 and the proposed Regulations give the powers needed to strengthen Canadian controls over disposal at sea, and to live up to the international commitments made under the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (the "London Convention").

CEPA, 1999 takes a precautionary approach to ocean disposal. It now includes a short list of substances that may be disposed of at sea. By contrast, CEPA 1988 and its regulations stipulated what could not be disposed at sea. A second change between the two Acts is that CEPA 1999 requires the creation of a National Action List which determines when wastes cannot be disposed of at sea in order to limit harm to the environment and human health.

The Ocean Dumping Regulations, 1988, which must now be updated for CEPA, 1999, contain specific details on how to assess whether a waste can be disposed of at sea, what fees to pay for an application and what information to supply in a permit application or in a report following emergency disposal. The regulatory changes required to align to CEPA1999 were considered to be too significant for a simple roll-over of the 1988 regulations. In fact, however, the regulatory changes codify existing practices.

These proposed Regulations do not introduce any substantive changes to current practices.

Specifically, this is what has been done to make the new regulations consistent: The application fee from the previous regulations is rolled over without change. There are minor wording changes to the information required under Section 130 disposal (emergency disposal, or disposal for safety reasons) to make the language consistent with the new CEPA, 1999 and to clarify the information to be included in the report filed. Clarifications of the information include the depth at the emergency disposal site, the date and time of disposal, and the action taken to minimize the risk to health and the environment during emergency disposal.

The Regulations provide the required National Action List which is taken from the national policy on assessing wastes developed in 1993-94 and published in a national user's guide (EPS 1/MA/1). The National Action List is an evaluation process which uses chemical screening levels (lower level) to represent a level of no concern and marine toxicity tests and, where necessary, bioaccumulation tests to determine the level above which ocean disposal is prohibited (upper level).

The application form was originally published in 1993 under amendments to the Ocean Dumping Regulations, 1988. The Disposal at Sea Form Regulations seek to ensure that adequate and appropriate information is provided to allow the Department of the Environment to properly assess waste or other matter intended for disposal at sea.

The form requests an identification of what is to be disposed, by whom, where, when, how and why. It requests a comparative assessment of alternatives to disposal at sea. It then requires the history of the load site, the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of the waste or other matter to be disposed of. The applicant must provide information on the location of the load site with respect to potential pollution sources and of the disposal site with respect to sensitive areas. Special mitigation and timing restrictions are also requested.

There are no changes to the form from the 1993 version, except the following: The addition of e-mail addresses, and site drawings, making the language, headings and references to the Act consistent with CEPA, 1999 and providing minor clarifications. In addition, the regulation-making power for the form under CEPA, 1999 has changed, so that these regulations are now made by the Minister of the Environment rather than by the Governor in Council. Provisions for the submission of the information in electronic format were added to improve efficiency, ease of transmittal for the applicant and enable entry of environmental and effects information into the Ocean Disposal database.

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