Federal delays are allowing billions of litres of wastewater to be dumped in Canadian waters including marine protected areas, an environmental group says.
In a report released this week, the World Wildlife Fund said the federal government has yet to follow through on a three-year-old commitment to bring in new regulations on what waste ships can release into the oceans. It says that lack of progress is allowing ships to keep releasing bilgewater, sewage, grey water and other wastewater.
The group used industry and government data to calculate that 147 billion litres of those wastes are being dumped into Canadian waters every year, with almost 10 per cent of that going into waters that are supposed to be protected.
“We don’t have the kind of regulations we need that would ban this kind of dumping,” said Kim Dunn, report co-author.
Dunn said Ottawa promised in 2019 to draft rules that would define what kind of wastewater could be dumped into oceans and where that would be allowed.
“We don’t yet see that commitment,” Dunn said.
Without clear definitions, releasing many types of waste into seawater remains legal.
The report uses publicly available information from government and industry to calculate how much is being dumped and where. It includes wastewater from showers, sinks, laundry, sewage as well as water that collects around machinery spaces, drainage systems and sludge tanks.
Almost all of the wastewater — 97 per cent, says the report — comes from scrubbers, which remove sulphur and other contaminants from exhaust smokestacks. Scrubber wastewater is acidic and carries heavy metals and hydrocarbons that are known carcinogens.
About two-thirds of the scrubber wastewater that enters Canadian waters comes from cruise ships, the report says.
The report concludes that nearly 10 per cent of what flows overboard — enough to fill almost 6,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — goes into marine protected areas and other conserved waters.
“We need a comprehensive definition of dumping so there are minimum standards in all of Canada’s marine protected areas that would prohibit the discharge of all operational waste from ships,” said Dunn. “We know from the science that all of the waste streams studied in this report are harmful.”
Comment from the shipping industry was not immediately available.
In an emailed response, Transport Canada said regulations on grey water, sewage and bilge in southern waters are aligned with international rules. In the North, the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act prohibits all waste discharges.
While that act does prevent ships from releasing bilgewater or other oil-containing water into the Arctic, the report says those rules are ambiguous for other wastes.
“Ships use scrubbers and discharge washwater in the region, but the legality of this practice is an open question due to regulatory inconsistencies and conflicts with accepted practices,” said co-author Sam Davin in an email. “This inconsistency leaves room for ambiguity in enforcement.”
Davin said greywater release in the Arctic is in a similar limbo.
“There are no reception facilities in the Arctic capable of handling large volumes of greywater and ships do not generally have the ability to retain their greywater beyond a few days,” Davin wrote. “Additionally, Transport Canada has neither approved nor certified any greywater treatment system for use in the Canadian Arctic.”
Transport Canada spokeswoman Sau Sau Liu said the government is consulting with industry and other stakeholders on new rules.
“In light of the 2019 federal announcement to establish minimum standards for (Marine Protected Areas), including a prohibition on ‘dumping,’ Transport Canada is examining the operational and technical feasibility of enhancing existing vessel operational discharge requirements under these regulations,” she said in an email.
—Bob Weber, The Canadian Press