One of the main causes of pollution to our oceans is ocean dumping. Ocean dumping is any waste material from either corporations and industries, tanks and ships, or toxic waste that it deposed of into the ocean. Plastic is another detrimental waste that is disposed of that is non-degradable and is extremely hazardous to the ocean and marine ecosystems.
The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act was signed by congress in 1972, and put in policy that the United States has to regulate what is being dumped into the ocean and how it can effect the marine environment, human health, and ecological systems. The EPA is responsible for enforcing this act and they do so by issuing and reviewing permits for waste and creating and managing disposal sites for different types of materials that follow certain criteria. These sites are determined by conducting oceanographic surveys looking at environmental conditions of the sites. This dumping management program has worked to stop harmful waste getting dumped into the ocean and worked to prevent adverse impacts to the marine environment and human health that results from pollution. Read the act here! https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2014-title33/pdf/USCODE-2014-title33-chap27.pdf
But before this act was put in place, there was no regulations or laws s against dumping. With this being said, no one really knows what and how much waste has been dumped into the ocean. There have been reports and astonishing numbers of waste being dumped.
1946-1970– EPA records show:
-In the pacific ocean 55,000 containers of radioactive waste were dumped and off the east cost, 34,000 containers had been disposed of in the ocean
1968– National Academy of Sciences estimations:
-100 million tons of petroleum products and 2-4 million tons of acid chemical waste have been dumped
-One million tons of heavy metals from industrial waste have been dumped
1968-The President from the Counsel on Environmental Quality reported:
-38 millions tons of dredged material (34% of which was polluted) disposed of
-4.5 Million tons of industrial waste and sewage sludge
Materials and Their Effects
Radioactive Material: Material such as iodine-131 and cesium-137 (half life of 30 years) have been absorbed by phytoplankton and zooplankton, which then gets transmitted up the food chain to large marine life and eventually back to humans. In some areas such as Japan, there has been a fish ban set in place because areas are so radioactive they are sure the marine life is contaminate. It is still unclear the exact impact radioactive waste has on the marine life, but Russian scientists suggests that the die-off of the seals in White and Barent’s sea is from blood cancer from the radio active material. They also suggest that the death of millions of starfish, shellfish and seals in the White Sea is also due to this material. So what can happen if radioactive waste continuously gets dumped? If it is dumped in concentrated areas, it will contaminate most of the organisms in that area, because it cannot be evenly distributed throughout the ocean.
Chemical Waste: Direct dumping of chemicals into the ocean can kill or seriously harm the surrounding marine life. Also, companies and industries dumping into rivers and lakes have the same effect, because they all lead back to the ocean. Pesticides and pollutants that wash off crop fields wash into the surrounding bodies of water.
Plastic Waste: Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in the ocean causing harmful and deadly effects to the marine life. Birds and marine animals are ingesting or getting tangled in this material and killing them. Fish are also getting this waste into their systems, which make their way up the food chain eventually to us.
Dredged Material: Dredging is the process of removing sediment and debris from the bottom of lakes, ponds or other bodies of water. This waste has the potential to be toxic and in a lot of cases it is. When it gets disposed of in the ocean, the ocean gets exposed to foreign objects, pollutants and other materials which have negative effects on marine life and marine ecosystems.
Industrial Waste: Industrial waste consists of fertilizer/agricultural waste, electric power generation, inorganic chemicals, metals, transportation equipment, and water treatment. 7.6 billion tons of industrial solid waste are produced each year. All of these chemicals and materials result in pollution of the ocean.
Spilling of Oil: Off shore rigs and tankers have released oil into the ocean from small doses to gallons of material. Oil effects birds and marine life tremendously and kill them. The worst oil spill was the Gulf spill in 2010, which we still have not fully recovered from.
What materials are being dumped today?
Most the materials that are dumped and allowed to be dumped are uncontaminated sedimentary waste, fish remains and human remains for burial.