AG Ferguson to sue if Navy continues to pollute Puget Sound

AG Ferguson to sue if Navy continues to pollute Puget Sound (PHOTO: KOMO FILE)

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday his intent to join a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Navy's process of scraping the hulls of decommissioned vessels, which leads to ongoing pollution.

In June 2017, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Washington Environmental Council and the Suquamish Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Navy, claiming they violated the Clean Water Act for an incident where the Navy did an in-water hull cleaning.

In 2016, the Navy announced a plan to perform an in-water hull cleaning to remove waste from a 60,000 ton decommissioned aircraft carrier. The EPA and the Washington Department of Ecology both expressed concerns about the cleaning process releasing a significant amount of metals. The EPA recommended the Navy clean the hull on a dry dock instead of in the water.

In January 2017, the Navy cleaned the aircraft in the water without obtaining a proper permit, according to the lawsuit. The cleaning process included using rotary brushes and high powered jets of water to "pulverize, scrape and blast debris." Copper and zinc were in the solid waste that was released; both materials extremely toxic to marine life.

According to a letter from Ferguson, the Navy took no precautions to contain the waste removal, and the waste was discharged directly into the Sinclair Inlet in a turbid stream.

A study conducted by the Navy concluded the level of pollutants it released far exceeded standards allowed by Washington state. The Navy took samples before and after the cleaning to determine those levels.

In a letter Ferguson wrote, he claims the Navy is violating the Clean Water Act and the Washington State Water Pollution Control Act and is creating an "imminent and substantial endangerment to the environment under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act."

Ferguson claims the Navy is releasing pollutants into the Sinclair Inlet without proper permits. He wrote one of the instances of pollution is dumping approximately 50 dump truck loads of solid waste into the Puget Sound.

The Navy’s longstanding activities at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard have resulted in significant amounts of hazardous waste being released into Sinclair Inlet for more than a century. Due to the heavy contamination, the EPA considers Sinclair Inlet a Superfund site, and the federal government has spent millions attempting to clean its waters. The inlet currently does not meet standards for human recreation, fish consumption or the protection of aquatic life.

Ferguson and the groups in the lawsuit are asking the courts to require the Navy to clean up the toxic materials and prevent more toxic materials from being released into the Sound.

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