NORFOLK (AP) Three shipyards have been accused of discharging a highly toxic chemical into sanitary sewer lines.
The substance, TBT, is a paint additive that covers the hulls and repel barnacles on 70 percent of the world’s commercial fleet. But it’s so toxic to marine life that the International Maritime Organization is trying to ban TBT worldwide by 2008.
The Hampton Roads Sanitation District fined Norshipco $4,000 for numerous violations of its no-TBT policy this year and put both Colonna’s Shipyard and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on notice that toxic intrusions will not be tolerated.
“There’s no reason for this stuff to be in the sewage system,” said Guy M. Aydlett, the district’s director of water quality. “In some cases, we’re talking about very, very, very high numbers” of contamination.
Last month, with TBT still cropping up in sewer samples, Norshipco signed an administrative order promising to investigate and control the source by next summer or face more penalties.
Colonna’s and Norfolk Naval Shipyard have voluntarily pledged similar investigations.
Norshipco’s environmental manager, R. Michael Ewing, said the amount of TBT that shipyards wash into local waters each year is probably less than a pound. By contrast, ships that visit the Port of Hampton Roads probably contribute more than 1,000 pounds, just by the chemical leaching off hulls as they ply the water.
Sanitation district officials don’t think that Norshipco and other yards are intentionally piping TBT-laden wastewater into the public sewer system.
But Ronald E. Johnson, chief of industrial waste for the district, said: “Common sense would tell you that it has to be related to them doing TBT work.”
Mr. Ewing disagreed, saying that TBT contamination is showing up in sewer lines serving only restrooms for dock workers.
The sanitation district only this year began screening for TBT among its waterfront customers. It worries that yards and other facilities that use or handle TBT will simply flush their waste into sanitary sewers and, eventually, into local rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
If that occurs, the district would be liable for any environmental damage. State regulators might then impose permit limits or fines.