A U.S. District Judge in Camden, N.J., yesterday ordered the city of Camden to stop dumping sewage at its long-used Atlantic site 35 miles off the Maryland and Delaware coasts and to dump it instead more than 60 miles to the northeast, beyond the continental shelf.
Maryland officials have fought Camden's ocean dumping for 12 years. Yesterday's decision, however, left them with mixed feelings. "From my viewpoint, it's ridiculous to dump sludge in the ocean at all," said James Coulter, Maryland secretary of Natural Resources. "But if they're going to do it, the further from Maryland, the better.
The sludge from Camden, which is almost untreated, is primarily composed of human waste and water, but also contains such toxic substances as mercury, PCBs, along with disease causing viruses.
The dumping near Maryland was to have continued for at least three more months. The city is under Environmental Protection Agency mandate to stop ocean dumping entirely and use a new, land-based, dumping method.
The decision by Judge Stanley Brotman came one month after the same judge had granted an emergency request from Camden that allowed the city to continue ocean dumping until March 6.
The Judge's decision yesterday came after Camden City Attorney Martin McKernan agreed to the new and more distant site, which is 90 miles due east of Cape May, N.J.
Shortly after Judge Brotman's Dec. 6 decision to allow three more months of dumping at the site 35 miles off the seaside resorts of Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Ocean City., Md., the federal Food and Drug Administration closed the nearby clam beds, according to Warren Rich, a deputy attorney general for Maryland.
"That sludge has viruses in it - they shouldn't put them out in a commercial shellfishing area," said Rich, who went to court in Camden today to oppose any ocean dumping of the Camden sludge.
The new ocean dumping site is "preferable from a public health point of view," he said.
The argument over the ocean dumping of Camden's raw sewage has been going on for nearly four years among the states of Maryland and Delaware, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the city of Camden.
According to Dick Chlan of the EPA's Philadelphia office, Camden had first been licensed by the EPA to dump its sludge at the original site in 1973, then in 1975 had gotten a one-year extension of its dumping permit until November, 1976.
But when the sewage dumping permit was about to expire, Camden's engineers, whose facilities were already under fire from lawsuits by both the EPA and New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, asked Judge Brotman to grant an emergency extension of their permit, Chlan said.
Chlan explained that, since its dumping permit had lapsed, the city had been storing the sludge in its two storage tanks, which were nearly full. Chlan said that the judge's order had been based on concern for public health.
"For years they've shown nothing but mismanagement at the sewage treatment facility. They've never complied with the criteria in their permits . . . to develop an alternative method of treatment," Chlan said.
The federal agency had asked Camden as a condition to its permit to develop alternative procedures for disposing of its sludge on land, but none had been developed by the time the one-year extension of the permit expired.