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ODU's Dobbs Appointed to National Committee Assessing Limits on Organisms in Ballast Water

Fred Dobbs

Fred Dobbs, an Old Dominion University microbiologist, has been appointed to the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Assessing Numeric Limits for Living Organisms in Ballast Water.

He and eight other researchers, including three from Canada, were notified early this month of their appointments to the new committee. The NRC's Water Science and Technology Board is overseeing the committee's work, which comes in response to requests from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard. The committee has been asked to produce a report by the middle of next year.

The EPA and Coast Guard want an evaluation of freshwater systems such as the Great Lakes, as well as of estuary and U.S. territorial marine waters "considering what implications their differing environmental and ecological conditions might have for the development of allowable concentrations of living organisms in discharged ballast water." The federal entities are looking for help in establishing numeric ballast water discharge limits in the government's next Vessel General Permit.

"It's simultaneously exciting and daunting to tackle a problem this challenging," Dobbs said. "The implications for ecological security are huge, of course, but they must be considered in light of operations of the shipping industry, which is of enormous importance to our national economy and indeed, the world's.

"The International Maritime Community has set ballast-discharge standards and those will provide a starting point for our consideration. Our goal is to recommend values that may become national criteria, not only for the United States, but also for Canada. Political consensus will be crucial, given that several US states already have established standards that differ among one another," Dobbs said.

The committee will look at current means of assessing the risks from ballast discharges, which sometimes cause aquatic nonindigenous species (NIS) to become established.

In the committee's mission declaration, the members are asked to answer these questions: "Can a natural invasion rate or other natural baselines be reliably established, and if so, how? What utility might such baselines have in informing EPA's deriviation of allowable numeric limits for living organisms in ballast water discharges? Can such baselines be established on a national basis, or would this need to be done on a regional or ecosystem basis?"

Dobbs, a professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, is an expert in the ecology of microorganisms in ships' ballast water. He was part of a research team several years ago that produced "best operating practices" that shipping companies could adopt in order to minimize NIS-ballast water risks in the Great Lakes.

This article was posted on: May 6, 2010

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