National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is a system under the US environmental protection rules (Clean Water Act) to minimize pollution.

Typically dischargers seeking coverage under a General Permit are required to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to be covered by the permit. A General Permit is subject to public comment and is developed and issued by a permitting authority (in this case, EPA). A general permit covers multiple facilities within a specific category for a specific period of time (not to exceed 5 years), after which the permit expires. After due formalities, general permits may be re-issued.

The VGP will apply to any commercial, non-fishing vessel greater than 24m in length, regardless of flag, trading within 3M of the US baseline. If a vessel is less than 300 gross tons and does not have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters of ballast water, submitting of an NOI is not needed. However, to obtain and retain permit coverage in these instances, the Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form must be completed and a copy of that form kept onboard at all times. Vessels of 300 gross tons and above or vessels which have the capacity to hold/discharge more than 8 cubic metres of ballast water must submit a Notice of Intent (NOI). Non compliance to Vessel General Permit (VGP) constitutes a violation of the US environmental rules and may lead to prosecution.  These requirements are over and above the international rules like MARPOL, other US regulations, etc. If there are several ships in a company, each individual vessel subject to the permit is required to comply with the limitations and requirements of the permit including inspections, record keeping and reporting while it operates in waters of the United States.

A vessel must file NOI in good time to allow at least 30 days of processing. EPA may require additional information or time to review the NOI. EPA has e-NOI system at its website. Failure to file will amount to violations of the Clean Water Act, even if the pollutants were in limit. If the NOI is submitted electronically, the system will provide an e-mail confirmation to the certifying official that the NOI was received and that discharges are authorized under the permit beginning seven days after EPA’s receipt of the certified NOI unless EPA notifies the certifying official otherwise and in writing. If the NOI is submitted in paper form, EPA will not provide confirmation of receipt. EPA will only provide a notification of whether coverage has been authorized or if further review is required.

Vessels are not required to keep a paper copy of the permit onboard the vessel; however, EPA recommends that a copy of the VGP be available onboard each vessel for reference to ensure that vessel operators are aware of all requirements. The records can be retained electronically as long as they are available in a form that can be read similar to a paper record, are legally dependable, and accessible to an inspector onboard the vessel

The information provided on the VGP is as follows:
Parts 1- 4: general requirements applicable to all vessel discharges.
Part 5: specific additional requirements that apply to particular vessel types
Part 6: specific additional requirements that apply in individual States or Tribal Lands.

A permit will generally specify how much pollutant and for that matter, even bacteria is permitted in a discharge. Some permits, contain certain generic best management practices. Thus, in respect of material storage, there should be minimum exposure on deck or it should be covered. Sealing of toxic and hazardous materials; discharges of oil and oily mixtures; etc are dealt in appropriate way. Additionally it has other provisions to ensure that the discharge does not deteriorate water quality or people’s health. It precisely specifies provisions to guide any person who is discharging pollutants.

There are as many as 26 different discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel. The Specific Discharge Categories or types are:

1Deck washdown and runoff; and Above Water Line Hull CleaningVessel owner/operators must minimize the introduction of on-deck debris, garbage, residue, and spill into deck washdown and runoff discharges. The drip pans must be drained to a waste container
2Bilgewater / Oily Water Separator EffluentAll bilgewater discharges must be in compliance with the regulations. Vessel operators may not use dispersants, detergents, emulsifiers, chemicals, or other substances that remove the appearance of a visible sheen. All vessels must minimize the discharge of bilgewater into waters. For vessels greater than 400 gross tons that regularly sail outside the territorial sea (at least once per month), if treated bilgewater is discharged into waters subject to this permit, it must be discharged when the vessel is underway (sailing at speeds greater than 6 knots)
3Ballast water;All discharges of ballast water must comply with the requirements in permit. Minimize or avoid uptake of ballast water in the stipulated areas and situations. Must meet the BWPS ballast water discharge limits. ballast water treatment system must not use any biocide that is a “pesticide” within the meaning of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.
4Anti-Fouling Hull Coatings/ Hull Coating LeachateFor anti-fouling hull coatings not subject to FIFRA registration (i.e., not produced for sale and distribution in the United States), hull coatings must not contain any biocides or toxic materials banned for use in the United States. The discharge of Tributyltin (TBT) from any source (whether used as a biocide or not) or any other organotin compound used as a biocide is prohibited.
5Aqueous film forming foamDischarges of AFFF are authorized for emergency purposes when needed to ensure the safety and security of the vessel and crew. For vessels that sail outside of the territorial sea more than once per month, maintenance and training discharges of fluorinated AFFF are not authorized within waters subject to this permit.
6Boiler/economizer blowdownMust minimize the discharge of boiler/economizer blowdown in port if chemicals or other additives are used to reduce impurities or prevent scale formation.
7Cathodic protectionThe discharge of zinc, magnesium, and aluminum are expected from properly functioning cathodic protection sacrificial electrodes. However, vessel operators must minimize the flaking of large, corroded portions of these anodes
8Chain locker effluentThe anchor chain must be carefully and thoroughly washed down (i.e., more than a cursory rinse) as it is being hauled out of the water to remove sediment and marine organisms. In addition, chain lockers must be cleaned thoroughly during dry-docking to eliminate accumulated sediments and any potential accompanying pollutants.
9Controllable Pitch Propeller and Thruster Hydraulic Fluid and Other Oil-to Sea Interfaces Including Lubrication Discharges, etcThe protective seals on controllable pitch propellers, azimuth thrusters, propulsion pods, rudder bearings, or any other oil-to-sea interfaces must be maintained in good operating order to minimize the leaking of hydraulic oil or other oils. The vessel owner/operator must not discharge oil in quantities that may be harmful. Minimize maintenance activities on stern tube seals when a vessel is outside of drydock
10Distillation and reverse osmosis brineBrine from the distillation system and reverse osmosis reject water shall not contain or come in contact with machinery or industrial equipment (other than that necessary for the production of potable water), toxic or hazardous materials, or wastes.
11Elevator pit effluentDischarges of untreated elevator pit effluent are not authorized within waters subject to this permit except in cases of emergency. Elevator pit effluent may be discharged into waters subject to this permit if it is managed with the vessel’s bilgewater and meets all the requirements
12Fire-main systemsDischarges from firemain systems are authorized for emergency purposes to ensure the safety and security of the vessel and her crew, other emergency situations, and testing and inspections of the firemain systems in order to assure its operability in an emergency. The vessel owner/operator shall not discharge firemain systems in waters listed in Appendix G except in emergency
13Freshwater layupMinimize the amount of disinfection or biocidal agents used in freshwater layup to the minimum required to prevent aquatic growth.
14Gas turbine wash waterGas turbine washwater must not be directly discharged within waters subject to this permit. Where feasible, gas turbine washwater must be prevented from commingling with bilgewater that will be discharged in waters subject to this permit.
15Gray waterAll vessels must minimize the discharge of graywater while in port. For those vessels that cannot store graywater, the owner or operator and their crews must minimize the production of graywater in port. Examples of ways to minimize production of graywater include delaying laundry, scullery activities, and restricting length of showers while in port,
16Motor gasoline and compensating dischargeThe discharge of motor gasoline and compensating effluent must not have oil in quantities that may be harmful, which includes discharges resulting in a visible sheen, or an oil concentration that exceeds 15 ppm.
17Non-oily machinery wastewaterIf discharged directly overboard, non-oily machinery wastewater, technical water, or potable water must be free from oils in quantities that may be harmful.
18Refrigeration and air condensate dischargeMust not allow refrigeration and air condensate discharge to come into contact with oily or toxic materials if it is discharged directly overboard. Refrigeration and air conditioning condensate that is collected and plumbed for internal recycling is allowed to commingle with oily water;
19Seawater cooling overboard dischargeWhen possible, non-contact engine cooling water, hydraulic system cooling water, refrigeration cooling water and other seawater cooling overboard discharges should occur when the vessel is underway to minimize any thermal impacts to the receiving water.
20Seawater piping biofouling prevention;  Seawater piping biofouling chemicals subject to FIFRA registration must be used in accordance with their FIFRA label. No pesticides or chemicals banned for use in the United States may be discharged into waters subject to this permit.
21Small boat engine wet exhaustVessel engines generating wet exhaust must be maintained in good operating order, well tuned, and function according to manufacturer specifications to decrease pollutant contributions to wet exhaust.
22Sonar dome dischargeThe water inside the sonar dome shall not be discharged into waters subject to this permit for maintenance purposes. Vessel operators should not use biofouling chemicals that are bioaccumulative for the exterior of sonar domes when non-bioaccumulative alternatives are available.
23Underwater ship husbandry dischargesManagement measures to minimize the transport of attached living organisms include selecting an appropriate anti-foulant management system. Vessel owners/operators who remove fouling organisms from hulls while the vessel is waterborne must employ methods that minimize the discharge of fouling organisms and antifouling hull coatings.
24Welldeck dischargesWelldeck discharges that contain graywater from smaller vessels should not be discharged within waters subject to this permit except in cases of emergency. Welldeck discharges from washdown of gas turbine engines may not be discharged within waters subject to this permit. Welldeck discharges from equipment and vehicle washdowns must be free from garbage and must not contain oil in quantities that may be harmful
25Gray water mixed with sewage from vesselsThe commingled discharge of graywater mixed with sewage from vessels must comply with the effluent limits for graywater discharge. Discharges commingled with sewage must meet the requirements set forth
26Exhaust gas scrubber washwater dischargeExhaust gas scrubber washwater discharge must not contain oil, including oily mixtures, in quantities that may be harmful. Sludge or residues generated in treating exhaust gas scrubber washwater discharge must not be discharged in waters subject to this permit and must be delivered ashore to adequate reception facilities.
  • Specific discharges not covered by the federal requirements of the VGP include sewage, used or spent oil, garbage or trash, photo processing effluent, dry cleaning effluent, medical wastes, noxious liquid substance residues, and tetrachloroethylene (percholoroethylene) degreasers.
  • Some discharges may be covered by ‘State specific provisions’ found in Part 6.
  • In respect of oil tankers and petroleum tankers, effluent from inert gas scrubbers may be discharged under this permit, but should be minimized as much as feasible. Discharges from deck seals are permitted when installed as part of inert gas system. Scuppers are plugged during cargo operations. A visual sheen test to be conducted after every cargo operation or deck washdown.

The VGP requirements should be carefully considered to avoid non compliance. Some of these areas to focus on are;

  • Appropriate and timely actions, very important. If accidental discharge occurs or limits are exceeded, the cause should be identified and corrective actions initiated, including a time line for corrective action. All of this should be documented through appropriate recordkeeping, EPA is duly reported.
  • Non-compliance with many VGP conditions e.g. good housekeeping can be corrected immediately.
  • A corrective program will be required in connection with more serious problems e.g. violation of effluent limits, identification of situations where control measures are insufficient to meet applicable water quality standards or failure of pollution control equipment.
  • Time frame for correction of deficiencies varies. Some must be corrected immediately; others may be given days, weeks, months, etc or time, even until the next dry docking.
  • Non-compliance as well as failure to conduct and implement a corrective action constitutes a permit violation.
  • The 2013 VGP requires owners/operators to submit an Annual Report.
  • Requirements must be established for routine visual inspections and discharge sampling.
  • Comprehensive annual vessel inspections and dry-dock inspections are also in the scope of the schedule and documentation.
  • Requirements in respect of inspections, specific training, record-keeping and reporting are complied with and recorded. Crew attending appropriate training regarding the VGP as well as the corrective actions taken are recorded.

A brief idea about sampling and record keeping
Vessels are required to perform analytical monitoring and file Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMR). All vessels using a ballast water treatment system (BWTS) to discharge ballast into VGP waters must conduct sampling and analysis of treated ballast water (maintenance monitoring) on two separate occasions during the 12 months following the first such ballast discharge. The two sampling events must be at least 14 days apart. If residual bio-organism and biocide levels are found within specified VGP parameters after both only one sampling and analysis per year is required thereafter. New build vessels greater than 400 gross tons and constructed on or after December 19, 2013 are required to sample and analyze their bilge water once per year, for oil and grease content. Sampling and analysis during subsequent years can be reduced to once per year if certain conditions are met. New build vessels constructed on or after December 19, 2013 with a maximum crew capacity of 15 or more persons (including accommodation) are required to sample and analyze graywater samples twice per year. The two sampling events must be at least 14 days apart. All vessels with an NOI and using an EGS are required to sample and analyze wastewater samples twice per year. The two sampling events must be at least 14 days apart. Parameters for analysis are described in VGP. If analysis results are within specified parameters during the first year, only one sampling and analysis is required during each subsequent year.

Some more points regarding Ballast Water Management
Vessels employing experimental Ballast Water Treatment System, if using a biocide system is deemed “experimental” under the VGP. The ballast water discharge must be monitored for residual biocide components. Vessel may not use a biocide that is considered a “pesticide” under FIFRA (The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, And Rodenticide Act )unless it has been registered for use in ballast water treatment, but this provision does not apply if the biocide is generated on board by a “device” per FIFRA. Total Residual Chlorine may not exceed 100 micrograms per litre as an instantaneous maximum. Other biocides or derivatives may not exceed “Gold Book” values. Annual Whole Effluent Toxicity testing is required for ballast water discharge samples for systems using biocides not included in Gold Book. Records of sampling and testing are to be retained for 3 years. Sampling and monitoring data is to be submitted annually to EPA (hard copy initially, but via e-reporting system once operational. Specific and very detailed requirements have been added by certain states. These must be carefully reviewed. It is important to note that while certain discharges are permitted under the general provisions, some of these discharges are prohibited in all or in part by certain State provisions. In addition, certain states have expanded the applicability of the EPA NOI provisions to smaller vessels. These states have created additional reporting requirements and have created special permit application requirements for vessels discharging in State waters.

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