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ARCHIVED - CEPA Annual Report for the Period April 1994 to March 1995

CEPA Part VI: Controlling the Disposal of Substances at Sea

Environment Canada regulates the disposal of substances at sea and meets its international obligations under the London Convention 1972 by means of a system of permits under CEPA, Part VI, and the Ocean Dumping Regulations. Canada is committed to strong and effective controls on ocean disposal which includes:

  • the disposal of all types of material at sea, including destruction at sea by incineration; and
  • the loading of wastes on ships, aircraft, platforms, or other structures for disposal at sea.

Permits for Ocean Dumping

Each application for disposal at sea is separately evaluated to determine if a permit will be issued. Disposal at sea is permitted only for non-hazardous substances and where it is the environmentally preferable and practical alternative. Permits are not granted if practical opportunities are available to recycle, reuse or treat the waste.

Permits typically govern timing, handling, storing, loading, placement at the disposal site, and monitoring requirements. Environment Canada will not grant a permit if the proposed disposal activity is prohibited under any Act of Parliament, or if a licence or permit required under any other Act has not been obtained. The Ocean Dumping Regulations ensure the federal government is taking a comprehensive approach to waste management and pollution prevention.

Anyone applying for a permit from Environment Canada must publish a notice of intent in a newspaper of general circulation in the vicinity of the proposed operation. This notice must outline the type of material, and the intended locations for the loading and disposal. The applicant then submits this published announcement with a permit application. The notice of intent allows interested people to voice their concerns and have them addressed as part of Environment Canada's application assessment procedure. In addition, all ocean disposal permits and amendments to permits must be published in the Canada Gazette before they come into force.

Environment Canada considers a number of factors before granting a permit, including:

  • waste audits;
  • alternatives to ocean disposal;
  • potential environmental impacts, and
  • conflicts with other legitimate uses of the sea.

Inert materials or uncontaminated materials of natural origin are considered suitable for ocean disposal. The majority of the material disposed at sea is dredged material which must be moved to keep shipping channels and harbours clear for navigation and commerce. Fish waste which cannot be recycled as fertilizer, animal feed or other products may be permitted for disposal at sea. Other wastes which may be considered suitable for ocean disposal include scrap metal and decommissioned vessels.

Inspections and investigations are carried out to ensure compliance. Disposal site monitoring is used to verify that permit conditions are met and that assumptions made during the permit review and site selection process were correct and sufficient to protect the environment.

Permits Granted in 1994-95

Over the past year, Environment Canada issued 123 permits for the disposal of an estimated 7.8 million tonnes of material. This quantity reflects the amount approved for disposal as opposed to the actual quantity disposed of at sea. Disposal activities are still ongoing for many permits issued. Overall from last year, this represents a major drop in the total number of permits issued (43 percent), but a slight increase in the total quantity permitted (3 percent).

Fifty-seven permits, or almost 46 percent of the permits issued, were for the disposal of dredged material containing rocks, gravel, sand, silt, clay and wood wastes. This is 22 fewer permits than the previous year. The volume approved for disposal decreased marginally by 6 percent from 6.7 million tonnes in 1993-94 to 6.3 million tonnes this year. The quantity of dredged material approved for disposal varies each year and depends on the number of dredging projects that exceed 100,000 cubic metres (m3) or 130,000 tonnes.

Another 49 percent of the permits issued covered the disposal of fisheries waste, including offal, shells, herring waste and fish processing wastewater. While fisheries waste accounted for 60 permits, the quantity approved for disposal amounted to only 61,329 tonnes or less than 1 percent of all the material approved. From the previous year, this is a 52 percent drop in the permits issued and a 38 percent drop in the quantity permitted. A substantial drop in permits issued for fisheries wastes was expected this year owing to the continuing difficulties facing the east coast fishery.

Excavation material from construction sites on land, mostly soil and rocks, accounted for 4 permits or about 3 percent of all permits issued and 1.4 million tonnes or 18 percent of the material approved for disposal. This large quantity of material accounted for the slight increase in the total quantity permitted.

Two other permits were issued in 1994-95: one for a 3,051 tonne vessel to create a diving attraction-the HCMS Saguenay-and another for small weather instruments (dropsondes) which were remotely deployed in the Beaufort Sea as part of a study and would automatically sink after use. These permits accounted for 4 percent of those issued and less than 0.05 percent (3,051 tonnes) of the total quantity of waste approved for disposal.

Quantities for Permits Issued - 1994-95
MaterialQuantity (tonnes)# of Permits% of Permits% of Quantity
Fish Waste61,3296048.780.79


Quantities Permitted by Region - 1994-95
MaterialAtlantic RegionPacific RegionQuebec RegionNorthern Region
# of
# of
# of
# of
Fish Waste6061,329000000

Permits Rejected in 1994-95

Environment Canada did not reject any applications in the past year as all the applications received met the regulatory requirements.

Emergency Disposal off Newfoundland

On February 18, l995, the Russian container ship M/C Mor UK, off the coast of Newfoundland enroute from Bremerhaven to Montreal, reported that it had sustained storm damage. A container had leaked 1.5 tonnes of liquid sodium borohydride, which is extremely corrosive and emits hydrogen gas creating a risk of explosion. The captain radioed the Canadian Coast Guard for permission to dispose of the material at sea. Environment Canada and CANUTEC, the federal government's emergency information centre for dangerous goods were notified. Permission was given to discharge the material under CEPA section 68(1). The vessel proceeded to do so slowly over a distance of 150 miles. Upon arrival in Montreal on February 20, 1995, and without further incident, the vessel was inspected by the Coast Guard and the remaining cargo was accounted for. A report under section 64(4) was filed February 20, 1995.

Regional Forecasts for 1995-96

In the Atlantic Region, the number of permits for dredging is expected to increase as the historical ten-year dredging cycle continues. For fisheries waste, the number of permits issued is expected to remain unchanged from this year because of the depleted fish stocks. In the Quebec Region and the Pacific and Yukon Region, maintenance dredging is expected to remain at stable levels. No dredging applications are expected in the Prairie and Northern Region.

Research to Support Ocean Dumping Regulations

Environment Canada continues to improve the tools it uses to assess the materials intended for disposal at sea. Bioassays are becoming standard assessment tools to evaluate the effects of contaminants in the marine environment. Researchers have already developed several standard protocols to assess the quality of municipal and industrial effluents, and work on sediment bioassays is well underway.

Three new Canadian sediment bioassays to evaluate crustacean mortality, sea urchin reproduction and fluorescence from photoluminescent bacteria have been completed and published. As well, work is continuing on a bioassay that examines changes in the growth of marine worms. A sediment test for bioaccumulation of trace contaminants is being developed based on a test developed in the United States. In addition, guidance to aid in the interpretation of these bioassays is being developed to ensure they are applied in a consistent manner. As part of this work, a pollution gradient study, which examines effects over decreasing concentrations of pollutants from a single source, will be undertaken over the next two years.

Recommendations on methods to develop marine environmental quality guidelines were made in 1992 and were used to develop a protocol for deriving sediment quality guidelines that was adopted by CCME in March 1995. From this protocol, draft guidelines for several PAHs, cadmium and mercury have been developed. Further guidelines are expected to be completed within this fiscal year. They comprise: PCBs, lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, nickel, chromium, and dioxins. These guidelines will allow the department to establish contaminant screening levels at the "no effect" concentration level. These screening levels are part of a tiered testing approach for assessing materials for ocean disposal. Where materials are found to have contaminants above screening levels, bioassays will be required to evaluate their suitability for ocean disposal. Eventually, Environment Canada will establish rejection levels or levels above which adverse effects have been demonstrated to occur. Above rejection levels, no ocean disposal would be allowed.

Special research projects occasionally arise from unique ocean disposal activities. In December 1992, a permit was issued to sink the 2,370 tonne HMCS Chaudière, a Tribal class destroyer, and now a diving attraction north of Vancouver. A program was instituted to observe any effects at the disposal site and data acquired during the summer of 1993 showed the old destroyer was home for a wide variety of marine life. In 1994, further video surveys showed a rich abundance of marine life completely covering the vessel. As well, no evidence of chemical contamination in the water and nearby sediments has been found.

As a result of the April 1993 decision to revoke a permit to dispose of scrap metal issued to Panarctic Oils Ltd., a research project has been initiated to evaluate the environmental impact of stockpiling scrap metal on land in the Arctic. To date, no effects on the surrounding soil or water have been observed and further inspections will continue annually. This research will provide valuable data on stockpiling on land as a waste disposal option in the North.

In May 1994, the results of a major monitoring program carried out in Cambridge Bay, an old Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar site, were released. Extensive video of the seafloor was taken and the sediment and marine life were sampled to evaluate the presence of chemical contaminants. A large amount of debris was found on the seafloor including: wreckage from two aircraft, a large number of barrels, old vehicles, household debris, and an electronics cabinet. While PCB concentrations in sediment and fish were elevated compared to pristine conditions, these concentrations were similar to other harbours in the North. The PCBs appeared to be associated with the local town dump as well as the radar site. Results for other contaminants were similar to the nearby pristine site sampled for comparison as well as other pristine areas previously studied.

International Activities

Members of the London Convention 1972 have embarked upon a three-year amendment process to address immediate and long term disposal at sea issues. Amendments to ban the sea disposal of radioactive waste and the sea disposal or incineration at sea of industrial wastes were agreed to in 1993 by Canada and the other 71 member countries. Canada has never issued permits for radioactive waste disposal or incineration of industrial wastes at sea. As well, sea disposal of industrial wastes was discontinued in 1993 and a de minimus (exemption) level for radioactive substances will be prescribed by the Convention at a later stage. Canada implemented these amendments to the Convention through changes to CEPA and the Ocean Dumping Regulations.

Long term proposals to update the Convention include:

  • the adoption of the Waste Assessment Framework;
  • the definition of a precautionary approach;
  • extending the Convention to include internal marine water;
  • prohibiting export of wastes for disposal at sea; and
  • strengthening technical cooperation and assistance.

CEPA, Part VI, already includes Canada's internal marine waters and the Waste Assessment Framework was used as the basis for the new CEPA application form for disposal at sea. The Waste Assessment Framework sets out a scientific and precautionary process to evaluate a substance proposed for ocean disposal. These amendments were also discussed and supported during national consultations in 1993 and in February 1995. Canada is promoting the adoption of these amendments within the Convention and the amendment process should be completed by 1996.

Ocean Dumping Action Plan

In November 1991, Environment Canada established the Ocean Dumping Control Action Plan. This initiative devotes additional resources over six years to safeguarding the marine environment. Specifically, funds are directed towards:

  • revision of the regulations;
  • improved monitoring;
  • improved support for science;
  • research; and
  • a plastic debris program.

Since the implementation of this plan, monitoring guidelines are progressively being developed, field tested and phased into routine disposal site monitoring. Interim Monitoring Guidelines covering physical and chemical aspects were published in July 1993 and Biological Monitoring Guidelines were added recently. These guidelines address dredged material disposal only and consideration will be given to include other materials in the future. Field testing of these guidelines is ongoing at three disposal sites; one on the Pacific coast and two on the Atlantic.

New marine environmental quality guidelines and biological assessment tools are also being developed as discussed under research to support the Ocean Dumping Regulations.

Under the marine plastic debris program, the training of volunteers to conduct long-term surveys was completed in November 1994, and surveys are now underway. A report detailing the first year's results will be prepared at the end of 1995. As well, information products including a newsletter and fact sheet, are available.

Amendments to the Ocean Dumping Regulations and CEPA

As previously mentioned, Canada agreed to ban the disposal of industrial and radioactive wastes at sea and implemented these changes by amending relevant parts of the Ocean Dumping Regulations and Schedule III of CEPA. These changes came into force on September 21, 1994.

The first amendments to the Ocean Dumping Regulations came into force on September 30, 1993, as part of a two-phased approach aimed at strengthening controls to safeguard the marine environment. The application fees were replaced by a flat fee of $2,500 for all applicants including federal departments, and additional information requirements concerning project justification, evaluation of alternatives, and a waste audit, were specified.

The second phase is planned for 1996/97 and consists of proposed new environmental assessment procedures and standards to better account for effects on the marine environment. Consultations were undertaken across Canada during October 1993 and February 1995 in preparation for developing the Phase II Regulatory Amendments. Changes that are being contemplated include:

  • adopting a tiered testing approach to evaluate materials for ocean disposal;
  • new marine environmental quality guidelines and biological assessment tools; and
  • incorporating the Waste Assessment Framework of the London Convention 1972.

The Parliamentary review of CEPA was initiated in June 1994 and may result in other revisions to CEPA, Part VI, and the Regulations such as:

  • introducing a permit fee based on the type and quantity of material disposed;
  • modifying Schedule III to reflect a reverse listing approach, if adopted by parties to the London Convention 1972;
  • clarifying the definition of dumping; and
  • harmonizing Part VI inspector's powers with those under other parts of the Act.

Though by world standards the Canadian marine environment is relatively uncontaminated, Canada's territorial waters do have some contamination problems, especially in harbours, estuaries and near shore areas. Part VI of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) regulates disposal at sea and is one of the measures in place to protect Canada's marine environment through pollution prevention and coastal zone management.

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