Lakes Raise Bar for Environmental Awareness

Forthcoming regulations from the U.S. Coast Guard will set a new environmental standard for the maritime industry and the century-plus-long practice known as cargo sweeping. Even though an Environmental Impact Statement based on a series of studies spanning over a decade and costing more than $1 million finds that the washdown of de minimus amounts of non-toxic, non-hazardous dry–cargo residue has no significant effect on the Great Lakes environment, the Coast Guard will generally restrict the practice to waters ranging from 6 to 13.8 miles or farther from shore. The international treaty that governs ocean shipping permits washdown to begin three miles from shore.

"We appreciate the Coast Guard's decision to be extra mindful of the precious Great Lakes environment," said Patrick J. O'Hern, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, and Vice President and General Manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company. "While the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) noted the amount of cargo washed down in a typical year represents only 0.0006 percent of tonnage carried on the Lakes, industry endorses the additional safeguards. We may not be perfect, but few, if any, industries can match a success rate of 99.9994 percent. We will do our best to enhance procedures and further reduce the industry's environmental footprint."

During loading and unloading of cargos such as iron ore, coal, and limestone, small amounts fall on the vessel's deck. Crewmembers shovel spillage back into the cargo hold (or back onto the conveyor belts used to unload cargo). However, tiny amounts remain and must be hosed over for crew safety and cargo integrity. Bottom samples conducted as part of the EIS determined vessels and docks have refined procedures to the point that the highest concentration of cargo residue, coal on Lake Erie, even after more than a century of shipments, on a per-acre basis equals 3 cups, or 24 ounces – the equivalent of a medium-sized drink - spread evenly over a football field. Limestone densities are even less, and don't even approximate how much lime would be spread over a typical lawn in a single treatment.

Cargo sweeping has taken place on the Great Lakes for more than 150 years. Iron ore has been shipped from Marquette, Michigan, since 1852. Coal has moved from Sandusky, Ohio, since 1892. Limestone has been loaded in Calcite, Michigan, since 1912. Since 1900, Lakeswide those trades have totaled more than 13 billion tons.

The U.S. Coast Guard has spent more than a decade and more than $1 million studying the impacts of washing down cargo residue and labels the effects "barely detectable" in its final EIS. "These extensive studies were fully warranted given the Lakes are the source of drinking water for millions of North Americans," said Donald Cree, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and National Vice President, Great Lakes, for American Maritime Officers. "Effective regulations are based on hard facts, not perception or unfounded fears."

"Safe and efficient transportation on the Lakes is critical to the region's quality of life and economic well-being," said James H.I. Weakley, 2nd VP of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers’ Association. "A recent joint U.S./Canada study found that Great Lakes shipping saves North American industries nearly $3 billion a year in transportation costs. Those savings sustain and create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs. The series of studies on cargo sweeping also demonstrated the effectiveness of industry's best management practices."

"It's a pity that this higher standard for cargo sweepings won't be the case concerning regulation of ballast water," said John D. Baker, 3rd VP of GLMTF and President of the ILA's Great Lakes District Council. "The House of Representatives passed legislation five months ago that would be 100 times more protective than existing international standards. Unfortunately, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has not allowed similar legislation in the Senate to be passed. We hope our Great Lakes legislators will move these bills when Congress returns in September."

GLMTF was founded in Toledo, Ohio, in 1992 to promote domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 83 member companies and organizations, it is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community, and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.–Flag vessel operators, shipboard and shoreside unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging Great Lakes ports and waterways; construction of a second Poe–sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; protecting the nation's cabotage laws; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.

Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force