EPA to strengthen invasive species defense on ships

Discharging ballast water
All ballast water contains living organisms. When these organisms are picked up in one place and discharged in another, invasive plants and animals can be spread.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Conservation groups say they've reached an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency that will lead to new restrictions on invasive plants and animals in the ballast water of ships traveling the Great Lakes.

A lawsuit settlement requires the EPA to adopt a new permitting system for Great Lakes ships requiring both ballast clean-up technology and new ballast water monitoring and reporting rules for ships.

Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Thom Cmar said possible ballast clean-up measures include filters, chlorine and ultraviolet light.

"These are all very standard waste water treatment technologies," Cmar said. "It's not rocket science we're talking about here. It's the basic science of water treatment."

Ship ballast is blamed for dozens of non-native species like zebra mussels reaching the Great Lakes.

Cmar said new rules won't take effect until December 2013.

"Vessel owners would be able to see the standards, comment on them, and then begin to move toward finally adopting the technologies that are necessary to clean up the Great Lakes," Cmar said.

A spokesman for the Lake Carriers Association declined to comment since that organization has an open lawsuit with the EPA over ballast water rules.