Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Warships sunk for artificial reefs may pose PCB hazard - claims an environmental group


The Province
By Marianne White
January 08, 2008

An environmental group is worried that Canadian navy ships that were sunk as artificial reefs may pose an environmental threat because they contain PCB-contaminated wiring.

One of the scuttled vessels, the former HMCS Saguenay, has been sitting on the ocean floor outside Lunenberg, N.S., for more than 13 years. This type of warship was built in the 1950s and 60s and PCBs -- that have been linked to cancer -- were then not known to be harmful.

The man behind the sinking of the Saguenay denied a media report that this ship and others scuttled off the B.C. coast may contain PCBs because they were not stripped of all of their wires.

"Anything that was considered a hazard had been removed," said Richard Welsford of the Nova Scotia Artificial Reef Association.

Welsford thinks no one should be worried about the PCBs and said that very little wire is left in the Saguenay.

But Nova Scotia's Ecology Action Centre still fears that the PCBs or other toxic substances, such as paint, could harm marine life.

"There are no ecological benefits to sinking ships," said the centre's Mark Butler. "They only do it for tourism and diving purposes.

"You have to be very cautious because you never know what you might discover in five or 10 years time that you hadn't taken into account. Once you [sink] a ship, it's never coming back up again," he added.

Butler said he is relieved that the navy has decided to strip two decommissioned warships, HMCS Gatineau and HMCS Terra Nova, of all wiring before they are sunk as artificial reefs.

Michael Ryan, the head of the association that plans to buy the Terra Nova, said the navy had notified him that the ship would be sold wire-free and PCB-free. It is reported that the work will cost about $1 million per ship.



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