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ARCHIVED - CEPA - Annual Report for the Period April 1993 to March 1994

CEPA Part VI: Controlling the Disposal of Substances at Sea

Canada is committed to tough and effective controls on ocean disposal. Part VI of CEPA, through which the federal government implements the provisions of the London Convention, 1972, regulates

  • 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 fabricated structures for disposal at sea.

Permits for Ocean Dumping

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 and the Ocean Dumping Regulations. 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 usually govern timing, handling, storing, loading, placement at the disposal site and monitoring requirements. 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, Environment Canada will not grant a permit. The Ocean Dumping Regulations ensure that 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 state the type of material and the intended location for loading and disposal. The applicant then submits this published announcement with a permit application. The notice of intent allows interested people to express their concerns and gives Environment Canada the chance to address these concerns while assessing applications. Before any ocean disposal permits and amendments to a permit come into force, they must be published in the Canada Gazette.

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

The Department carries out inspections or investigations to ensure compliance. It uses disposal site monitoring 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 1993-94

During 1993-94, Environment Canada issued 216 permits for the disposal of an estimated 7.5 million metric tonnes of material. This figure does not represent the actual quantity of material disposed of at sea, but rather the amount approved for disposal. Activities are still ongoing for many permits issued.

Seventy-nine permits, or almost 37 percent of the permits issued, were for the disposal of dredged material containing rocks, gravel, sand, silt, clay and wood wastes. This figure is the same as the 1992-93 total. The volume approved for disposal decreased marginally by 3 percent, from 6.9 million tonnes in 1992-93 to 6.7 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 or 130,000 tonnes.

Another 58 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 126 permits, the quantity approved for dumping amounted to only 98,394 tonnes or about 1.2 percent of the total waste approved for disposal.

Excavation material from construction sites on land, mostly soil and rocks, accounted for only two permits, or about 1 percent of all permits issued, and made up about 0.65 million tonnes or 8 percent of the waste approved for disposal.

Other permits issued in 1993-94 included four to sink vessels, one to dispose of a cargo of sugar spoiled by sea-water, one to dispose of brine solution and one for an oil spill experiment. These permits accounted for 4 percent of those issued and 0.5 percent (39,324 tonnes) of the total quantity of waste approved for disposal.

Newfoundland Offshore Burn Experiment

One option for dealing with oil spills has been burning the oil on site. However, data on the impacts involved in this method have been limited to laboratory-scale tests. In August 1993, Environment Canada led a multi-million dollar project involving 25 supporting agencies and private industry to conduct an experimental burn of a simulated oil spill off the coast of Newfoundland. Preliminary results show that burning is a viable way to reduce the impact of oil contamination. Monitoring for long-term effects of the burn is continuing.

Permits Screened or Rejected in 1993-94

Environment Canada rejected four applications and revoked one permit in the past year for various reasons. The four rejected applications--two for dredged material, one for fish offal, and one to sink a vessel--were denied because the applicants had provided insufficient information.

On April 14, 1993, the Minister revoked a permit issued to Panarctic Oils Ltd. to dispose of 400 tonnes of scrap metal in the Arctic Ocean, off Lougheed Island. The decision was taken in response to concerns expressed by residents of Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet. Instead of disposing of the material at sea, a research project has been initiated to evaluate the environmental impact of stockpiling scrap metal on land in the Arctic.

Regional Forecasts

In the Atlantic Region, the number of permits for dredging is expected to increase as the historical 10-year dredging cycle continues. For fisheries waste, a 60 percent drop in the permits issued is expected because of the continuing cod and capelin moratorium. The increased fee of $2,500 (from $50) should further reduce the demand for fish waste permits, as it may become more economically attractive for a number of fish plants to either recycle their waste through fish meal plants or combine their sea disposal operations where no recycling opportunities exist.

In the Quebec Region and the Pacific and Yukon Region, moderate increases in maintenance dredging are expected to make up for projects postponed because of the slow economy.

No dredging applications are expected in the Prairie and Northern Region for Arctic waters because of the decrease in offshore oil and gas activities and reduced government spending.

Quantities for Permits Issued, 1993-94
of Permits
of Quantity
Dredged Material6,738,9057936.5789.53
Fisheries Waste98,39412658.331.31
Excavated Material650,00020.938.64
Spoiled Sugar30510.46>.01
Brine Solution34,20010.460.45
Scrap Metal000.000.00
Fish Load only020.93>.01
Oil Spill Experiment710.46>.01

Notes: Figures for dredged and excavated material are calculated assuming an average density of 1.3 tonnes per cubic metre. The total quantity figures for fisheries waste do not include the 2 "load only" permits issued to control the loading activities for these wastes.

Quantities Permitted by Region, 1993-94
MaterialAtlantic RegionPacific RegionQuebec RegionNorthern Region
No. of
No. of
No. of
No. of
Dredged Material262,379,130224,044,50030303,575111,700
Fisheries Waste12698,394000000
Excavated Material002650,0000000
Spoiled Sugar0013050000
Brine Solution134,200000000
Fish Load only2n/a0n/a0n/a0n/a
Oil Spill Experiment10000000

Notes : Figures for dredged and excavated material are calculated assuming an average density of 1.3 tonnes per cubic metre. The total quantity figures for fisheries waste do not include the 2 "load only" permits issued to control the loading activities for these wastes.

Research to Support Ocean Dumping Regulations

Environment Canada continues to improve the tools it uses to assess materials intended for disposal at sea. Bioassays are becoming standard tools for assessing the effects of marine contaminants, and researchers are making good progress in developing sediment bioassays.

Three Canadian sediment bioassays to evaluate sea urchin reproduction, crustacean mortality and fluorescence from photoluminescent bacteria have been published. As well, researchers are expected to complete 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.

A protocol to develop marine sediment quality guidelines has been developed, and guidelines for PAHs, cadmium and mercury are expected shortly. Guidelines for PCBs, lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, nickel, chromium and dioxins should be completed by the end of this fiscal year. They 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 to assessing materials for ocean disposal. Where materials are found to have concentrations of contaminants above screening levels, bioassays would 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, the Department would not allow ocean disposal.

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, which is 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 is now a habitat for a wide variety of marine life. 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. This research will provide valuable data on this potential waste-disposal option in the North.

International Activities

In November 1993, Canada and 71 other member countries of the London Convention 1972 agreed to ban the disposal of industrial and radioactive wastes at sea.

Member countries are considering further amendments to the London Convention 1972. Negotiations have begun that will likely lead to final changes to the Convention by 1996. Some possible changes include

  • adoption of the Waste Assessment Framework;
  • adoption of the precautionary approach; and
  • application to internal marine waters.

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 for evaluating a substance proposed for ocean disposal.

Ocean Dumping Action Plan

Environment Canada established the Ocean Dumping Control Action Plan in November 1991. This initiative devotes additional resources to safeguarding the marine environment over six years. Specifically, funds will be directed toward

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

During the three years since this plan was implemented, the Department has progressively developed and field-tested monitoring guidelines and phased them into routine disposal site monitoring. Interim Monitoring Guidelines covering physical and chemical aspects were published in July 1993 and Biological Monitoring Guidelines will be added in 1994-95. These guidelines address disposal of dredged material only. Consideration will be given to including 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 coast.

As discussed earlier, new marine environmental quality guidelines and biological assessment tools are also being developed to support the Ocean Dumping Regulations.

Under the marine plastic debris program, preliminary surveys to select long-term survey sites have been completed. The training of volunteers to conduct these long-term surveys will begin in the late summer 1994, with surveys beginning in the fall. As well, information products, including a newsletter and a fact sheet, are now available.

Though the Canadian marine environment is relatively uncontaminated by world standards, Canada's territorial waters do have some problems, especially in harbours, estuaries and near-shore areas. Part VI of CEPA, which regulates disposal at sea, is one of the measures in place to protect Canada's marine environment and promote pollution prevention.

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