The cruise ship industry has reduced smoke stack emissions in Alaska, although progress on wastewater treatment has varied this year, according to a mid-season report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
While the number of large ships that installed advanced wastewater treatment systems has increased, other ships are discharging outside state waters instead, DEC Commissioner Michele Brown said.
"Not all of the ships are installing improved treatment systems," she said. "We only have jurisdiction within state waters and some ships are opting to go outside of state waters."
Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, said new technology and practices have contributed to air-emission reductions in Alaska. And cruise lines are testing and implementing new wastewater treatment systems, he said.
"There's always more to do and there's more to discover about these different systems that have been purchased, before we know if they're the answer or not," he said. "We do feel positive about the progress."
Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles last year asked the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to enact new standards to control discharges inside and outside of state waters. Brown reiterated the request this week.
"Just moving outside the borders is just moving pollution around," she said.
State waters extend three miles from shore and include all the inside waters of the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska.
Greg Kellogg, EPA watershed program manager in Alaska, said the agency has been working in tandem with the state to develop new discharge standards. A decision about whether the EPA would establish its own wastewater standards would come from the agency's administrator, he said. Such new standards would apply nationwide, he added.
"It's certainly something we're considering," he said.
The state enacted landmark legislation last year that restricts the allowable levels of fecal coliform bacteria and suspended solids in blackwater, or toilet waste, and in graywater from sinks, laundries and showers.
Ships with advanced treatment systems that are allowed to discharge continuously within state waters are Holland America's Ryndam, Statendam, Veendam, Volendam and Zaandam, and the Celebrity ship Mercury. One other ship, the Seven Seas Navigator, meets requirements to discharge more than one mile from shore while cruising at six knots or more. Two ships had advanced treatment systems last year.
Although Holland America's Ryndam accidentally discharged partially treated wastewater into Juneau's harbor this month, the company has been a leader in treatment overall, DEC environmental engineer Carolyn Morehouse said.
"What Holland America did is pretty miraculous engineering-wise," she said. "They've done a complete retrofit of the process and the ships. ... And they did it in 2000 before we even had a law, starting with the Statendam and then with four additional ships."
Several cruise lines are testing new treatment systems, according to the state report. Crye, of the International Council of Cruise Lines, said it takes time to install and monitor a new system before a cruise line can submit it for certification.
"We feel our member lines will have some pretty good answers to all of these questions, hopefully by next summer in Alaska," he said.
Ten large ships hold black and graywater for discharge outside of state waters, according to the DEC's findings. Another eight ships hold blackwater only for discharge outside state waters.
Preliminary results showed that eight of 10 blackwater samples from ships with advanced treatment systems this year were well below state standards for fecal coliform. The state is evaluating the two samples that exceeded standards to determine if enforcement is warranted. The amount of suspended solids in the samples was low.
New graywater standards go into effect Jan. 1, and the state hasn't issued violations this year. Some graywater samples from large ships without advanced treatment systems showed high levels of fecal coliform bacteria and suspended solids, the report said.
The state has received fewer complaints from the public about cruise ship air violations this year. No opacity violations have been noted, although the DEC is investigating one potential violation. Cruise ships had 11 opacity violations in 2001, according to the report.
Opacity, mostly an aesthetic standard, is a measure of how much of the visible background is obscured by smoke. The DEC discontinued ambient air quality monitoring this year after finding low levels of pollutants in 2000 and 2001 and concluding the smoke did not have adverse effects on health.
New technology appears to be a major factor in the change, the report said. Princess Cruise Lines is plugging into shore power in Juneau; the Universe Explorer, the Regal Princess and the Mercury are using fuel additives to decrease visible emissions; and the Infinity, the Summit and the Radiance of the Seas are using gas turbines instead of diesel engines.
The DEC plans to release a final report on this year's cruise ship season this winter.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.