U.S. to Reconsider Type Approval for Ballast Water Treatment Systems

file photo
file photo

Published Dec 8, 2018 5:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act was passed by the Senate last week with a Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) bill that could potentially simplify the nation's approach to ballast water treatment and align its type approval of ballast water treatment systems to that of the IMO.
The VIDA Bill amends the regulations to allow for the use of reproductive methods for the testing and approval of ballast water management systems by explicitly expanding the definition of “living” to ensure that organisms that can't reproduce (nonviable) are not considered to be “living” (page 41 of the bill. 

Furthermore, the U.S. Coast Guard is required to develop a draft policy letter detailing reproductive methods based on best available science, and it must consider type approval testing methodologies that utilize organism grow-out and Most Probable Number (MPN) analysis to determine the number of viable organisms in ballast water that are capable of reproduction.

This new policy could potentially harmonize the U.S. Coast Guard's approach on reproductive methods in determining ballast water treatment system efficacy with that of the IMO. Allison Miller, product manager for ballast water treatment system manufacturer Trojan Marinex, says the changes would allows UV systems to be type approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. They would also allow these systems to be run in what equipment manufacturers believe is an energy-efficient manner - higher levels of UV treatment would be required to ensure the required death rates of organisms rather than just ensuring the organisms were unable to reproduce.

She looks forward to the bill's passage through the U.S. House of Representatives. “The Bill unequivocally requires the U.S. Coast Guard to adopt a reproductive method based on best available science. As many know, the rest of the world through the IMO adopted the MPN method as the best available science for a reproductive method in July, 2017. We believe this harmonization is a major step forward for shipowners around the world, as it allows for the appropriate and cost-effective use of UV treatment for ballast water management systems."

Ballast water management consultant Jad Mouawad says that while the changes specifically state that the Coast Guard must publish a draft policy letter for describing type approval testing methods capable of measuring the concentration of organisms in ballast water that are capable of reproduction, it remains to be seen which type approval method the Coast Guard is actually going to publish and whether it will be the same as the IMO. “That said, there is nothing stopping the U.S. Coast Guard from asking the IMO to adopt its own version of a testing method capable of reproduction, thus bringing the two standards on the same page, but not benefiting those ballast water management systems that have previously used MPN in their IMO testing.”

Simplifying Patchwork Regulations

The good news from the U.S. now, says Mouawad, is that the U.S. government has decided to separate the jurisdictions of the EPA and the Coast Guard, where basically the EPA will make the standards and the Coast Guard will apply them. Currently, both EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard have regulations in place through two different statutes, and they are not fully consistent regarding compliance. The change means that the Vessel General Permit (VGP) will eventually disappear, probably within four years.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has supported the new legislation and has been working with the American Waterways Operators to reform what it sees as an overlapping patchwork of federal and state regulations in favor of a nationally consistent framework for the regulation of ballast water and other vessel discharges. Currently under the Clean Water Act, states have the authority to set standards that are more stringent than the federal standard. 

 AAPA calls for a uniform federal program, including pre-emption of varying state laws. “Widely varying state requirements for the operation of vessels involved in international or interstate trade can adversely affect the competitiveness of the U.S. port industry and create compliance challenges for the commercial shipping industry. AAPA supports passage of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) in the 115th Congress.”