Toxic Trade News / 27 July 2009
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Sinking of John McCain's Old Aircraft Carrier Denounced
Navy’s Plan to Dump "USS Forrestal" Instead of Recycling Called "Irresponsible"
BAN Media Release
  "USS Forrestal"  
27 July 2009 (Seattle) – The toxic waste watchdog organization Basel Action Network (BAN) today slammed the government’s plans to scuttle the former aircraft carrier FORRESTAL[1] in deep water as an “artificial reef” instead of having the ship safely recycled at one of the half-dozen active ship dismantling yards in the U.S. The FORRESTAL is a non-nuclear supercarrier now moored in an aging pier on the Naval Station at Newport, R.I. Due to deterioration of the facility, the ship will be relocated by the end of September 2010 and will be the first in her class of carriers to be disposed. The ship contains large quantities of recoverable metals such as steel, aluminum and brass, but also hazardous wastes including asbestos, toxic paints and materials containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)[2].

The BAN protest came in its response to the Navy’s “request for information” (RFI)[3] regarding two options for the FORRESTAL and the other carriers of its class: sinking or recycling. Despite the Navy’s apparent openness to the recycling option, the Navy has already spent 6.4 million dollars preparing the ship for scuttling and insiders say that her fate at the ocean bottom is already decided. BAN notes that the deep water dumping sought by the Navy for security reasons will not benefit sport divers and there is no scientific evidence that artificial reefs enhance fisheries. More importantly, BAN insists that such ocean dumping ravages the marine ecosystem, hammers U.S. taxpayers with unnecessary expense, costs U.S. jobs, and violates international law against ocean dumping.

“Once the toxic waste is carefully removed and treated, these old naval vessels are a treasure trove of recyclable metals,” said Colby Self, BAN’s Green Ship Recycling Coordinator. “Dumping these old warships in the sea and damaging the marine environment, while squandering green recycling jobs and precious resources would be the most dishonorable discharge imaginable.”

While the Navy will remove some of the PCBs on board, it is not expected that they will remove all of them nor the toxic paints. In 2006, when the Navy sunk another aircraft carrier, the ORISKANY, off the coast of Florida, they spent 23.6 million dollars in total for the entire job, and still left 700 pounds of pure PCBs on the ship as well as toxic heavy metal based paints. Domestic recycling, on the other hand, will properly recycle the toxic materials and defray the costs for doing so by recovering the valuable scrap metal. It also will lower the overall carbon footprint and environmental impact demonstrably, as recycling is far less energy intensive and damaging to the environment than primary metals production. According to BAN’s estimates, domestic recycling will cost the government no more than 6 million dollars for a ship like the FORRESTAL.

Further, the deliberate dumping of organohalogen compounds such as PCBs is illegal under international law,[4] and also flies in the face of 1998 Executive Order 13101 on “Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling and Federal Acquisition” which states that national policy must “prefer pollution prevention, whenever feasible. Pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner. Disposal should be employed only as a last resort.”

According to the Navy’s own figures, the Forrestal alone contains a total of 39,957 long tons[5] of fully recoverable scrap metals. BAN claims that in the U.S. there are numerous recyclers capable of doing this job including Marine Metals LLC, All-Star Metals LLC, International Shipbreaking LLC, ESCO Marine, Baybridge Enterprises, Southern Scrap Materials LLC and others, all seeking to provide green recycling jobs.

“The days of treating our seas as trash dumps must come to an end,” said Colby Self. “Recycling is not only the right thing to do, and the legal thing to do, but it entails far less costs on taxpayers. Once all the facts are on the table, the Navy’s choice to recycle its aging fleet rather letting it pollute the marine environment cannot be more clear,” he said.


For more information contact:

Colby Self, Basel Action Network (Seattle), 206.250.5652 (mobile),
Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network (Amsterdam): +31 6.47411813 (mobile),

For a copy of the BAN submission:


[1] Senator John McCain served on the FORRESTAL in 1967 and was involved in the infamous fire on board the vessel that year in which 132 crew members perished.

[2] PCBs - The toxicity of PCBs to animals was first noticed in the 1970s when emaciated seabird corpses with very high PCB body burdens were washed up on beaches. PCBs exhibit a wide range of toxic effects and are of particular concern in the marine environment. These effects include: Toxicity of PCBs to invertebrates and fish in the water column; accumulation in sediments and potential hazard to sediment-dwelling organisms; bioaccumulation of PCBs in fish, birds and Annex II sea mammals with known sublethal toxicological effects; endocrine disruption in birds and sea mammals posing a hazard to populations of these animals.


[4] The London Convention of 1972 of which the U.S. is a Party, lists “Organohalogen compounds” as prohibited from deliberate disposal in the sea. The EPA has designated this type of “artificial reefing” as disposal and thus according to the London Convention, unless all PCBs are removed, such disposal is illegal.

[5] Long ton – one long ton equals 2,240 pounds.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Basel Action Network is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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