Sample Essay: The Effects of Ocean Dumping in New Jersey

More and more people care about our planet’s nature and ecology. But there’re still plenty of those who don’t. That’s why today we’re publishing our next sample essay on the topic of ecology.

Recent studies suggest that the deep ocean bottom supports habitats as diverse as any community on land or in shallow water. The discovery that the deep sea may be every bit as rich as a tropical rainforest comes at a time when land use is at a premium. In the 21st Century, we have to decide what to do with the vast amount of waste that a growing population — projected to double from five billion to 10 billion in the next century — will produce. The oceans, which cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, are likely to receive consideration as a waste-management option. [1]

Currently, ocean dumping is generally banned worldwide. The motivation for banning ocean dumping gained momentum when contaminated wastes from sewage-derived microorganisms were discovered at public beaches, shellfish beds were contaminated with toxic metals, and fish were infected by lesion-causing parasites. Coastal areas continually impacted by nutrients in waste products (primarily nitrogen) that run off the land eventually suffer from increases in toxic algal blooms and decreased oxygen levels, both of which can kill fish populations. [2]

To some, the deep-sea floor may seem safe from the human disturbances that threaten terrestrial and coastal ocean environments. Yet, most natural and artificial wastes — such as sewage sludge, mining tailings, fly ash from power stations, dredged spoils from harbors and estuaries, dangerous synthetic organic compounds and packaged goods — make their way to the sea floor over time. [3]

Effects of Sewage Sludge

When Clean Ocean Action began in 1984, it’s first goal was to end sewage sludge dumping, which at that time was taking place just 12 miles off New Jersey Beaches, in an area called the “Dead Sea” by commercial fishermen. Many said it could not be done. [4]

Now not only has ocean dumping ended, but the attitude towards sludge management in the New Jersey area has changed entirely. Sludge, which at one time was mostly burned or ocean dumped, is now viewed as a valuable resource to be recycled, reused, even sold. [5]

To insure that the end of ocean dumping resulted in environmentally sound alternatives being implemented, a coalition of local, regional, and national land, sea, and air advocacy groups formed in 1989, called the Clean Sludge Coalition. The coalition’s first campaign was to respond to most of the N.J. ocean dumpers’ intent to incinerate sludge. An investigation into alternatives by the coalition concluded that nationwide, sewage sludge is treated as a resource, not a waste. The Clean Sludge Coalition has since become a vocal advocate of beneficially reusing sludge, to insure that sludge taken out of the ocean would not turn into a pollution problem on land. [6]

New York Conflict

Because New York state has failed to develop land disposal or econtamination methods for mud dredged from shipping channels, the Jersey Shore must suffer. That’s essentially the position of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. They have approved a permit for a New York heating oil company to dump contaminated sludge in the ocean a few miles off Sandy Hook. [7]

Nobody disputes the need to dredge the channels of New York harbor. Cargo shipping is an important part of the region’s economy. But New York has had plenty of time — and has had the money sitting unused — to develop safe alternatives to using the ocean as a garbage dump. New Jersey has done its part. [8]

The sludge dredged from the heating oil company’s docks, as well as the material dredged from the Brooklyn Marine terminal and dumped in the ocean last fall, is as tainted as some of the muck that’s already at the bottom of the Mud Dump. The 1996 agreement to end ocean dumping called for the area to be capped and sealed with clean material. Nobody knew then that the EPA’s definition of “clean” would include sludge fouled with petrochemicals. [9]

Environmentalists point out that the silt to be dumped is unlikely to sink quickly to the bottom. Instead, some of it will make its way into currents and could end up in the waters off Jersey Shore beaches. [10]

Legislative Actions

It’s no secret that some local environmentalists think the ocean has been dumped on a bit too much.

As the familiar fight against ocean dumping rages on, two legislators are taking another step to put a legal stop to it. Congressmen Frank Pallone (D-6) and Chris Smith (R-4) sponsored legislation Jan. 10 to uphold a stricter standard for the soil used to cap the Historic Area Remediation Site (HARS), which lies six miles off the coast of Sandy Hook. The ocean floor dump site was formerly known as the Mud Dump. [11]

Ideally, the legislators and area environmentalists would like for no toxic waste at all to be dumped in the ocean. If dredged material is dumped, though, they want to make certain it’s a cleaner sludge. [12]

The problem is that the standard set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) two years ago was invalidated by a lawsuit. The suit, brought to U.S. District Court by the New York-based company U.S. Gypsum, was settled when the judge ruled the EPA’s standard shouldn’t be held because there were no public hearings on the subject. [13]

Despite the U.S. Gypsum win in July, legislators and Sandy Hook-based environmental group Clean Ocean Action won part of the battle because the company opted to dump on land rather than at sea. After negotiating with Pallone, Gypsum sent its 107,000 tons of contaminated waste to cap a golf course in Bayonne rather than the HARS. [14]

In October, the EPA published its interim standard of two years ago and opened a public comment period. Since then, local public hearings on the subject have taken place, and Pallone and Clean Ocean Action officials have continued the fight to set the stricter standard in stone. [15]

Clean Ocean Action praised the New Jersey Assembly for passing Senate Bill 1969 today, which if signed by the Governor stops the ocean dumping of more polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) off the coast of New Jersey. The bill establishes a state-imposed, enforceable PCB standard of 113 parts per billion (ppb) in worm tissue for dredged material transported in state waters for disposal at ocean remediation sites. [16]

The bi-partisan bill unanimously passed in the Senate on January 20, 2003. Assemblyman Steve Corodemus (R-11) was responsible for continuing the momentum of action on the bill, and the prime sponsor Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) gave the final push for a vote on the bill today. The bill is now ready for Governor James McGreevey to sign. Once signed by the Governor, the standard would provide the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection with an additional tool to ensure that only material meeting the 113 standard is disposed at Historic Area Remediation Site (HARS), the former Mud Dump Site, for its remediation. [17]

The 113 PCB value was adopted in September 2000 in an unprecedented agreement to ensure ocean protection as well as to meet dredging needs of the port. The federal standard establishing the 113 value was called into question in a lawsuit brought by a dredging company who had been denied a permit to dredge and dump material exceeding the federal 113 value at HARS. In July 2002, the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the 113 ppb value was established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) without following proper procedures as outlined in the Administrative Procedures Act. Following this court decision, EPA initiated a formal rulemaking process in October 2002 to properly establish 113 ppb as a final federal PCB criterion for ocean dumping. [18]

The Future of Ocean Dumping

While the effects of sludge dumping appeared to be abating in the vicinity of the 106-Mile Dumpsite, an additional chapter of the story remains to be written. Levels of silver appeared to be on the increase 50 nautical miles south of the dumpsite, as did the densities of sediment-dwelling organisms. While deep-sea dumping has been banned, there are many other ways that waste makes its way into water bodies. [19]

Many questions remain about the potential short- and long-term effects of toxic compounds accumulating in deep-water sediments. Some argue in favor of deep-ocean dumping, because the material is diluted as it sinks, and reamins stable on the sea floor. The present body of research, however, suggests that dilution does not completely abate the effects of dumping, nor does the waste sit still once it gets to the bottom. [20]

Reference List

  1. Marcia Collie and Julie Russo.
  2. Marcia Collie and Julie Russo.
  3. Marcia Collie and Julie Russo.
  4. The End of Sewage Sludge Dumping. Clean Ocean Action. January 1996. Retrieved at:
  5. The End of Sewage Sludge Dumping.
  6. The End of Sewage Sludge Dumping.
  7. No more muck for the ocean. Asbury Park Press. January 16, 2000.
  8. No more muck for the ocean.
  9. No more muck for the ocean.
  10. No more muck for the ocean.
  11. Marilyn Duff. Battle against ocean dumping intensifies. Independent. August 30, 2000.
  12. Marilyn Duff. Battle against ocean dumping intensifies.
  13. Marilyn Duff. Battle against ocean dumping intensifies.
  14. Marilyn Duff. Battle against ocean dumping intensifies.
  15. Final Assembly Action Shores Up Protection of Ocean from PCBs. Atlantic Highlands Herald. March 6, 2003.
  16. Elaine van Develde. Ocean dumping legislation in the legislative works. The Hub. January 24, 2003.
  17. Elaine van Develde. Ocean dumping legislation in the legislative works.
  18. Elaine van Develde. Ocean dumping legislation in the legislative works.
  19. Ocean Dumping to End Off the Coast of NY-NJ. Ocean Update. November 1996. Retrieved at:
  20. Ocean Dumping to End Off the Coast of NY-NJ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>