Ocean Disposal of Dredged Material - Section 103

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Laboratory Testing Capabilities for Section 103 Dredged Material

Transportation for disposal of dredged material - Section 103

The Section 103 evaluations performed in advance of proposed dredging activities generally require the following testing services:

  • Bulk sediment analysis for physical and chemical parameters.
  • Background site water analysis for chemical parameters.
  • Elutriation of sediment samples from various stations situated in the area to be dredged.
  • Analysis of elutriates for chemical parameters.
  • Toxicity testing.
  • Analysis of tissue samples from the toxicity tests for chemical parameters.

Elutriations are performed using relatively large quantities of site water and sediment. Various procedures exist, with most derived from Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) studies performed at various laboratories spanning many years. Currently, the most common elutriation procedure is the Standard Elutriate Test (SET), but others are used on occasion at various sites.

The chemical analyses require specialized procedures designed to achieve very low detection limits and at the same time cope with complex matrices. Aqueous samples (site water and elutriates) are normally seawater, which produces challenges for correctly determining concentrations of trace metals. Sediment often originates from areas where tidal action is minimal, so degradation products from organic material concentrates and complicates the analysis of compounds such as Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH),  Polychlorinated Biphenyls – Aroclors and/or Congeners (PCB), and Organochlorine Pesticides. Tissue samples from the toxicity testing most often include species of clams and worms (M. nasuta and N. virens). In addition to obvious interferences related to biological tissue matrices, additional challenges are present relative to obtaining representative sample aliquots, particularly for the clams. Another problem often encountered is minimal mass available for analysis. Survival rates from the toxicity tests can vary significantly, which impacts available mass for the follow-up chemistry.

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ALS Environmental Expertise in Section 103 Lab Testing

ALS Environmental has significant experience in all areas of the testing required to support 103 studies. Specialized procedures were developed more than twenty years ago to determine ultra-trace concentrations of the chemicals of concern typical of these studies in the various matrices. The associated elutriation procedures have also been on line at ALS Environmental dating back to the early 1990’s. In addition to the SET, ALS Environmental also performs the Modified Elutriate Test (MET), Dredging Elutriate Test (DRET), and a number of other procedures specific to projects. In addition, several ASTM procedures have been performed over the years.

The ultra-trace analytical chemistry procedures coupled with the experience performing the various elutriations merged well with a significant increase of support to 103 studies that began escalating in 2004. Today, ALS Environmental is consistently supporting section 103 projects in various parts of the U.S.

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About Section 103

The EPA's Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, prohibits the dumping of material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment. Section 103 of this act regulates the transportation and disposal of dredged materials in open seas, from the baseline of the territorial sea and seaward. Permits for the ocean dumping of dredged materials are issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and are subject to EPA approval. Ocean dumping is only permitted if no other reasonable alternatives, such as landfilling, are available.

The type of material includes, but is not limited to: dredged material, solid waste, sewage, sewage sludge, garbage, chemical and biological warfare agents, incinerator residue, chemicals, munitions, radioactive materials, biological and laboratory waste, wrecked or discarded equipment, rocks, sand, excavation debris, and industrial, municipal, agricultural, and other waste. The term does not include sewage from vessels or oil, unless the oil is transported via a vessel or aircraft for the purpose of dumping. Disposal through a pipe is regulated by the Clean Water Act, through NPDES permits.

Section 103 is of interest to U.S. Department of Energy (US DOE) because of their involvement in conversion of utility power plants to burn coal under the Fuel Use Act (FUA). These actions frequently entail dredging nearby rivers and channels to enable coal barges to readily access power plants. Department of Energy handles the permitting for power plants that switch to coal fuel and, thus, must assure that the plants comply with MPRSA provisions for dredge disposal, if disposal will occur in ocean waters outside the U.S. territorial limit.

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Actual Section 103 Information:


SEC. 103. [33 U.S.C. 1413] (a) Subject to the provisions of subsections (b), (c), and (d) of this section, the Secretary may issue permits, after notice and opportunity for public hearings, for the transportation of dredged material for the purpose of dumping it into ocean waters, where the Secretary determines that the dumping will not unreasonably degrade or endanger human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities.

(b) In making the determination required by subsection (a), the Secretary shall apply those criteria, established pursuant to section 102(a), relating to the effects of the dumping. Based upon an evaluation of the potential effect of a permit denial on navigation, economic and industrial development, and foreign and domestic commerce of the United States, the Secretary shall make an independent determination as to the need for the dumping. The Secretary shall also make an independent determination as to other possible methods of disposal and as to appropriate locations for the dumping. In considering appropriate locations, he shall, to the maximum extent feasible, utilize the recommended sites designated by the Administrator pursuant to section 102(c). In any case in which the use of a designated site is not feasible, the Secretary may, with the concurrence of the Administrator, select an alternative site. The criteria and factors established in section 102(a) relating to site selection shall be used in selecting the alternative site in a manner consistent with the application of such factors and criteria pursuant to section 102(c). Disposal at or in the vicinity of an alternative site shall be limited to a period of not greater than 5 years unless the site is subsequently designated pursuant to section 102(c); except that an alternative site may continue to be used for an additional period of time that shall not exceed 5 years if—

(1) no feasible disposal site has been designated by the Administrator;

(2) the continued use of the alternative site is necessary to maintain navigation and facilitate interstate or international commerce; and

(3) the Administrator determines that the continued use of the site does not pose an unacceptable risk to human health, aquatic resources, or the environment.


(1) NOTIFICATION.—Prior to issuing a permit to any person under this section, the Secretary shall first notify the Administrator of the Secretary’s intention to do so and provide necessary and appropriate information concerning the permit to the Administrator. Within 30 days of receiving such information, the Administrator shall review the information and request any additional information the Administrator deems necessary to evaluate the proposed permit.

(2) CONCURRENCE BY ADMINISTRATOR.—Within 45 days after receiving from the Secretary all information the Administrator considers to be necessary to evaluate the proposed permit, the Administrator shall, in writing, concur with (either entirely or with conditions) or decline to concur with the determination of the Secretary as to compliance with the criteria, conditions, and restrictions established pursuant to sections 102(a) and 102(c) relating to the environmental impact of the permit. The Administrator may request one 45-day extension in writing and the Secretary shall grant such request on receipt of the request.

(3) EFFECT OF CONCURRENCE.—In any case where the Administrator makes a determination to concur (with or without conditions) or to decline to concur within the time period specified in paragraph (2) the determination shall prevail. If the Administrator declines to concur in the determination of the Secretary no permit shall be issued. If the Administrator concurs with conditions the permit shall include such conditions. The Administrator shall state in writing the reasons for declining to concur or for the conditions of the concurrence.

(4) FAILURE TO ACT.—If no written documentation is made by the Administrator within the time period provided for in paragraph (2), the Secretary may issue the permit.

(5) COMPLIANCE WITH CRITERIA AND RESTRICTIONS.—Unless the Administrator grants a waiver pursuant to subsection (d), any permit issued by the Secretary shall require compliance with such criteria and restrictions.

(d) If, in any case, the Secretary finds that, in the disposition of dredged material, there is no economically feasible method or site available other than a dumping site the utilization of which would result in non-compliance with the criteria established pursuant to section 102(a) relating to the effects of dumping or with the restrictions established pursuant to section 102(c) relating to critical areas, he shall so certify and request a waiver from the Administrator of the specific requirements involved. Within thirty days of the receipt of the waiver request, unless the Administrator finds that the dumping of the material will result in an unacceptably adverse impact on municipal water supplies, shell-fish beds, wildlife, fisheries (including spawning and breeding areas), or recreational areas, he shall grant the waiver.

(e) In connection with Federal projects involving dredged material, the Secretary may, in lieu of the permit procedure, issue regulations which will require the application to such projects of the same criteria, other factors to be evaluated, the same procedures, and the same requirements which apply to the issuance of permits under subsections (a), (b), (c), and (d) of this section and section 104(a) and (d)


Disclaimer: This Section 103 information is posted only as a convenience for informational purposes only. No warranty (express or implied) is made as to the website accuracy, completeness, or applicability. 

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