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A new water sample analysis shows that a banned pesticide and "elevated levels" of certain heavy metals have been included in marine discharges in Alaska. The new data were released as Gov. Tony Knowles stepped up pressure on Congress to approve tougher regulations for cruise ships.
"The cruise ship industry tells us they know what's in their discharges because they know what goes on their ships," said Amy Crook of Juneau, Alaska coordinator for the nonprofit group Center for Science in Public Participation. "Either they don't really understand what's happening on their ships or they aren't being fully honest."
Under a voluntary water sampling program that earlier turned up stratospheric levels of fecal coliform bacteria, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has discovered traces of heptachlor, a pesticide that has been severely restricted in the United States and 22 other nations.
"The cruise industry and everybody else is really at a loss to explain where it came from," said David Eley of Cape Decision International Services, the Juneau firm that has been doing water analysis for DEC.
Three of four samples so far show trace elements of the pesticide at barely detectable levels, Eley said. But the three ships are operated by three cruise lines, which is something of a mystery, he said. "It's hard to believe that three different cruise lines would be buying banned pesticides."
The names of the ships and companies that operate them haven't been released.
Heptachlor, a potential carcinogen, was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1974. It is no longer manufactured in the United States.
Crook said the industry needs to address the issue of pesticides, heavy metals and "semi-volatile organics" in their discharges. "They need to tell us where these things are coming from."
Industry spokeswoman Lana Johnson of Anchorage said in an e-mail: "There's a whole lot we just don't know about heptachlor, like where it's coming from and is it dangerous in the levels detected. The three ships have been thoroughly searched and we know there is no heptachlor aboard."
The good news for the industry is that analysis to date does not show any mixing of hazardous wastes with wastewater discharges.
But the analysis also turned up traces of copper and other heavy metals, Eley said. Like the pesticide, they were found in discharges of graywater, which is water gathered from sinks, showers, laundries and galleys.
Mike Conway of DEC said that shoreside facilities would have been in violation of Alaska regulations for similar discharges. But the state does not have authority to regulate cruise ships in the same way.
Meanwhile, Knowles has sent off a new letter to congressmen working on a cruise ship-related bill.
"I urge members of Congress to act now to reduce the impacts of the wastes from these floating cities," the governor wrote.
Knowles has summoned top industry executives to a meeting at the Capitol Nov. 13. A few cruise ship officials have said tentatively that they will be represented at that meeting.