Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Addresses Copper Issue

Under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) must reduce the amount of copper in its wastewater and comply with its federal Clean Water Act permit requirements, according to a May 28 press release.

According to the Navy’s discharge reports, from May 2003 to July 2008, PSNS frequently violated its permit by discharging copper in excess of allowable levels. The shipyard’s wastewater is discharged into Sinclair Inlet.

PSNS is the largest naval shipyard on the West Coast. The copper in its wastewater comes from sandblasting and painting of vessels in dry dock at the shipyard. The shipyard is allowed to discharge its wastewater into Sinclair Inlet, but only if it complies with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by EPA.

Edward Kowalski, EPA’s regional head of Compliance and Enforcement, said federal facilities must do their part to protect Puget Sound, just like everyone else. "The health of Puget Sound depends on everyone doing their part, beginning with complying with their permits," said Kowalski. “Under this agreement, the Navy has committed to coming into compliance and bringing their copper levels down. They are complying with the Clean Water Act and doing the right thing for Puget Sound.”

The Navy has already begun taking action to lessen the copper in the wastewater from PSNS including:

  • Increasing the effectiveness of its process water collection system;
  • Upgrading its sewer system;
  • Improving control of ongoing sources of copper to the wastewater (reducing paint overspray); and
  • Improving the dry dock cleaning processes.

As a result of this work, the Navy reports it has been in compliance with its current discharge permit for the past several months. In addition, over the past few years, PSNS has been working with other federal, state, and local agencies to better understand and reduce sources of fecal coliform in Puget Sound. As a result of this work, the agencies have been able to reopen several shellfish beds in the area.

EPA is in the process of updating the shipyard’s NPDES permit. A draft permit is expected to be available this summer and a final permit issued by the end of the year.

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