Toxic Trade News / 6 June 2011
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Obama Administration Adopts Look-the-Other-Way Policy
BAN Media Release
  Shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh.

Photograph: © Greenpeace / Dao
  A partly scrapped hulk of a tanker lies crippled on the beach at the shipbreaking yard, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Photograph: © Greenpeace / Hommel
6 June 2011 (Seattle) – A U.S. flagged cargo vessel called “HARRIETTE” was cleared on 1 June by the U.S. Maritime Administration for scrapping on the notorious beaches of Chittagong, Bangladesh with the surprising support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In past years, EPA required that older U.S. flagged vessels be tested for toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) prior to being exported to foreign scrap yards, as the export of PCBs violates the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA has been the only legal means of preventing the toxic dumping of obsolete U.S. ships on Asian beaches, where impoverished workers dismantle ships by hand and suffer from accidental loss of life and occupational disease.

Now, EPA seems willing to ignore its obligation to diligently administer TSCA, as directed by Congress, and instead of testing, is allowing ship owners to self-certify that their ships are PCB free -- effectively permitting the possibility of illegal export of toxic PCB waste to the developing world with a see-no-evil policy.

“Self-certification has time and time again proven to be a failed process of regulating industry,” said BAN’s Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director, Colby Self. “Ship owners who routinely maximize profits by dumping hazardous waste ships to be broken down by desperately poor laborers in primitive conditions are the wrong people to police themselves.”

In January 2010, the U.S. Maritime Administration prompted the U.S. EPA to review the HARRIETTE vessel transfer request, as filed by U.S. owner Sealift Inc., to assure compliance with TSCA. MARAD awaited a recommendation from EPA since January; however, EPA declined to review or make a recommendation, completely disregarding their obligations under TSCA. In the recent past, EPA had always required ship owners to test their vessels if there was a likelihood of PCB presence within the ships structural materials. MARAD then authorized the transfer request based solely on self-certifying claims from the ship owner.

EPA’s inaction positions the beneficiary with regulating his own actions, with a favorable determination bringing the owner a reported USD$3.2 million in the case of the HARRIETTE. Another vessel known as the PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND followed a similar path in March, in which the owners netted a reported USD$10 million from ship breakers at Alang, India. This U.S. vessel also was suspected of containing PCBs due to its 1975 year of construction and yet was never required to be tested.

“It appears that the Obama Administration has made a deliberate change in policy to knowingly turn a blind eye to the fate of U.S. flagged ships being scrapped on Asian beaches,” said Mr. Self. “Sadly this is being done even when they know the exports will result in untimely death and disease and are in fact being exported in contravention of U.S. law.”

The HARRIETTE was constructed in Japan between 1976-1978, and due to limited regulations under the Japanese Chemical Substances Control Law [1] at that time, there is high probability that the vessel was built with toxic components, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, lead and TBT based paints. EPA’s own guidance documents suggest vessels of this vintage (pre-1979) are assumed to contain regulated concentrations of PCBs (equal to or greater than 50 parts per million) unless sampling of all suspected materials prove otherwise.[2] No sampling was conducted on the HARRIETTE nor on the PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND.

Further, the HARRIETTE’s export to the ship breaking beaches of Bangladesh is not only a likely violation of U.S. environmental regulation but also a breach of the United Nations Basel Convention, which prohibits the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes from a non-party, such as the United States, to a member state, such as Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh is urged to ban the HARRIETTE from the ship breaking beaches of Chittagong and to uphold the principles of the Basel Convention in the same manner as their recent ban on the vessel called GULF JASH.


For more information, contact:

Mr. Colby Self
Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director
Basel Action Network
+001 206 250 5652


[1] Japan enacted 2 legislative orders and a number of Ministerial Ordinances regarding toxic substances in 1973 and 1974. These orders identify polychlorinated biphenyl's (PCBs) as "Class I Specified Chemical Substances". These orders did not prohibit use of PCBs; rather the laws regulated PCB manufacture, use and import. A complete list of orders can be found at:

Of note, Article 2, paragraph 3, of the Cabinet Order of the Law concerning the Evaluation of Chemical Substances and Regulation of Their Manufacture, etc., states that substances can be manufactured or imported with the intent to export as long as appropriate measures have been taken to prevent the substance from polluting the environment during the time leading to its export. The ship building of the HARRIETTE in Japan was done so with the intent to export to the U.S. Therefore there is potential that the vessel contains PCBs.

Further, Article 3 identifies PCB containing products that were not permitted for import, but this list excludes products that were designated by the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry as "difficult items to be replaced by similar products manufactured in Japan, but particularly necessary to be imported in view of the intended end-usage." The PCB items listed in article 3 are for the most part liquid PCB containing materials, and neglect the many solid matrix PCB containing items, such as electric cable, thermal insulating materials, rubber and felt gaskets, etc. that were commonly used in ships.

And lastly, Mr. Takeshi Yasuma, a Chemical Policy Analyst in Japan, informed BAN that electronic components containing PCBs that were already manufactured when CSCL came into force were permitted for use through the end of the materials expected lifetime. It is therefore difficult to gauge when PCBs were fully eliminated from use in ship building and suggests that materials manufactured several years prior to vessel construction and prior to CSCL coming into full force could in fact contain PCBs and exist within the construction of the said vessel.


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