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EPA to shipyard: Enough's enough

"The amount of copper flowing from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard into Sinclair Inlet must be reduced by May under an agreement between the Navy installation and the Environmental Protection Agency.According to EPA officials, unsafe levels of the metal reached the inlet from 1997 to 1999, prompting environmental authorities to step up efforts to control the pollution.Bub Loiselle, an EPA manager of water-quality compliance, said the Navy has made some corrective efforts but must do more. It's a matter of fairness and doing the right thing, Loiselle said. The Navy has (responsibility) to keep local waters clean. This agreement shows they are serious about the issue.The shipyard is allowed to dump wastewater into the inlet, but only if it meets federal permit conditions. Monitoring revealed copper in the discharges frequently exceeded EPA-approved standards during the last three years, EPA officials said.Some of the copper comes from dry-blasting paint off Navy ships, Loiselle said.The Navy now must do the dry-blasting within contained enclosures and collect wastewater from dry docks. The procedures must be in place in 90 days from Feb. 17, said Chae Park, an EPA compliance officer.Low levels of copper can be a nutrient for marine plants and animals, but the material is toxic to them at the levels recorded the last three years, Park said.There is no immediate health risk to humans unless they eat bottomfish or shellfish contaminated by the high levels of copper. That scenario is unlikely, since there are no shellfish harvesting areas around the shipyard and the copper can't reach the tidelands and beaches on the Port Orchard side of the inlet, said Don Miles, head of water quality for Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District.The copper settles in sediment, and the only way it can get to Port Orchard is if somebody dredges it up and dumps it over there, Miles said.Since the mid-1980s, the health district has warned against eating shellfish or bottomfish from the inlet because of the danger of toxic metals.Some day, that inlet is going to be clean, Miles said. The shipyard has come a long way in how it handles its discharges and recycles waste.Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, a state-supported group that monitors marine water issues, is following the shipyard situation, said spokeswoman Denise Clifford. On a larger scale, the organization will release a report at the end of February on hazardous materials in sediment in the Sound, she said."

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