Last Friday, I joined Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Congressmen George Miller and Mike Thompson, and Maritime Administrator David Matsuda at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. MARAD announced that it is ahead of a court-ordered deadline for it to remove the 57 rusty and deteriorating ships over which NRDC sued. The speed with these ships are being removed is welcome. Far more welcome—and more stunning—was MARAD’s revelation that its crews and contractors had removed 300 tons of paint debris from the vessels under its settlement of our lawsuit.
That debris was so contaminated with toxins—including lead, cadmium, zinc, chromium, mercury and other heavy metals—that it has been found to qualify as hazardous waste every time it has been tested. Yet, until NRDC and its co-plaintiffs sued, this debris was scattered about the ships’ decks and falling off their hulls, literally blowing, washing, and dropping into the San Francisco Bay with each gust of wind and spat of rain. That’s why the U.S. District Court ruled that MARAD was operating the site as an illegal hazardous waste facility in 2010, in violation of both federal and state laws, and ordered a cleanup.
MARAD is justifiably proud of its efforts, since settling our suit, to pilot these rusting hulks onto a safer course. We are proud, too. Because we and our co-plaintiffs sued, 300 tons—that is, six-hundred thousand pounds—of hazardous waste have been cleaned up rather than raining into San Francisco Bay. All of us who drink water from the Bay-Delta estuary, depend upon its fishes, or simply cherish a healthy Bay at the center of our communities and way of life, should be pleased.
When federal clean water and hazardous waste laws were first passed decades ago, Congress had the bipartisan wisdom to empower the individuals who live, work, and play downstream or downwind of pollution to protect themselves and their families from illegal contamination by going into court to enforce the law. Polluters try to chip away at these rights from time to time, arguing that citizen enforcement is not necessary. The three hundred tons of hazardous waste removed from the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet prove those naysayers wrong.