Effects

Some authorities argue that adding organic nutrients benefits the sea, citing statistics on the increased yield of fish. Increased fish yields in controlled environments such as nutrient-rich fish ponds support this view. Others argue that ocean dumping of sludge is safe because sludge contains only treated and stabilized biodegradable substances without any floatables.

Some also argue that as long as enough DO is in the water to support animal life and decompose organic waste, sludge dumping does not upset the ecological balance of the receiving water. With this logic, the ocean can be viewed as a great sink, capable of absorbing almost anything that is thrown into it. If this view were correct, San Francisco Bay could handle the waste of 200 million people since the tidal action in the bay replaces the water twice a day.

Some frequently argue that sludge, the end product of the sewage treatment process, is a benign substance. This statement is not completely true. Unfortunately, the sludge from a city like New York also contains toxic industrial waste because industrial plants frequently dump their waste in the municipal sewage system. The synergistic effects of the many synthetic chemicals, toxic substances, pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, and medical wastes containing viruses and bacteria are not fully understood and are likely to be harmful to the ecology of the receiving water. Many experts feel that neither the DO level nor the organic-waste-assimilating capacity of oceans is a safe criterion for waste disposal. The effects and interrelationships are more complex, and the consequences are not understood well enough to accept such simplistic arguments.

Since dumping began at the 106 Mile Site, which receives New York's sludge, Rhode Island fishermen and lobstermen have reported diseased lobsters and crabs and a general drop in their catch of bottom-dwelling fish. Some controversy exists concerning the fishermen's reports that sludge is driving the fish away or that it causes shell disease (burn-spot disease) in lobsters and crabs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicated that the ocean dilution is sufficient to eliminate the harmful effects; however, it made that statement without studying the fish in the area.

Scientists have reported a proliferation of certain forms of sea life at the 106 Mile Site. Part of the reason why damage to the receiving water is reduced, if not eliminated, is due to the great depth and large area of this site. The heavy fraction of the sludge takes 3 to 4 days to sink to the bottom, while the lighter particles take up to a year. This delay allows more time for microorganisms to decompose the sludge. While scientists have reported that the ocean bottom at the dump site teems with sea life, they have not yet determined if this sea life is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or heavy metals that might enter the food chain.

Biological studies on the Chesapeake Bay relate primarily to the disposal of bottom deposits dredged from the area and show the degree of pollution and its drift and harmful effect on the environment. For example, the total phosphates and nitrogen levels increased by a factor of 50 to 100 over normal levels as spoil material deposited over an area five times that designated for the disposal. The studies indicate that life was adversely affected, particularly that of the bottom organisms. A mathematical approach is useful to the understanding of benthic sludge decomposition and the degree and rate of purification of waste deposited on the sea bottom surrounding outfalls.

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