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Ocean Dumping In The Southeast

National Information

In 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) Exit EPA Disclaimer to prohibit the dumping of material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment. The MPRSA, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, implements the requirements of the London Convention, which is the international treaty governing ocean dumping.

Virtually all material ocean dumped in the United States today is dredged material. Other materials that are currently ocean disposed include fish wastes, human remains, and vessels. Certain materials, such as high-level radioactive waste, medical waste, sewage sludge, and industrial waste, may not be dumped in the ocean.

Ocean dumping cannot occur unless a permit is issued under the MPRSA. In the case of dredged material, the decision to issue a permit is made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), using the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) environmental criteria and subject to EPA's concurrence. For all other materials, EPA is the permitting agency. EPA is also responsible for designating recommended ocean dumping sites for all types of materials.

General Permits

General permits, which are permits that do not require an application for case-specific permit, have been issued for specific classes of material that have been determined to have a minimal adverse environmental impact.

Emergency Ocean Dumping Permits

Emergency ocean dumping permits may be issued when EPA determines that an emergency exists, requiring the dumping of materials. These materials, which if not disposed, would pose an unacceptable risk to human health and admits of no other feasible solution.

Ocean Disposal of Dredged Material

Photo of tug and barge dumping dredged material in ocean

Disposal of dredged material from
a split hull barge

Twenty-one commercial ports and four military ports are located within EPA Region 4. Millions of cubic yards of sediments are dredged from these ports each year, much of which is disposed in the ocean off the southeastern United States. Regulation of dredged material disposal within ocean waters in the Southeast is a shared responsibility of EPA Region 4 and the COE South Atlantic Division. Under the MPRSA, the COE is the permitting authority for the proposed disposal of dredged material. Permits for ocean disposal of dredged material are subject to EPA review and concurrence. EPA is also responsible for designating and managing ocean disposal sites for dredged material.

Dredged Material Testing in EPA Region 4

Evaluation of dredged material for ocean disposal under the MPRSA relies largely on biological (bioassay) tests. The ocean testing manual, commonly referred to as the Green Book, provides national guidance for determining the suitability of dredged material for ocean disposal. Regional guidance is provided in the EPA Region 4 - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Atlantic Division Southeast Regional Implementation Manual (SERIM) (447 pp, 38,560 K), About PDF). Additional related guidance can be found in the following documents:

photo of Vendeen sediment sampler being unloaded into ocean

Monitoring of an ocean dredged material site using a deep ocean VanVeen sediment sampler

Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Sites

EPA Region 4 in cooperation with the COE is responsible for the management of 21 Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Sites (ODMDS's). Descriptions of the sites, site management and monitoring plans, and monitoring results are provided on the ODMDS page.

Contact Us

Phone numbers and e-mail addresses for EPA Region 4 coastal program staff are available.

For information about the contents of this page, please contact Christopher McArthur

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