Of ballast water and zebra mussels

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   New York and five other Great Lakes states, along with several environmental groups, won a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today over commercial ships dumping contaminated ballast water into the lakes. The court decision prohibits large vessels and other oceangoing freight ships from discharging water without a permit from the EPA, starting Sept. 30. The federal agency previously had exempted ships that dumped untreated water from having to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.   

   One of the legacies of the polluted ballast water was the introduction of the zebra mussel invasive species into American waters in the late 1980s. The zebra mussel is now found in all five Great Lakes and other waterways in North America, according to state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office. In some areas, there are up to 1 million of them per square yard, and they clog intake pipes at water and power plants. The discharges have introduced more than 180 aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes and have affected other American bodies of water. Some native species are nearly extinct as a result

   “Today’s decision is a huge win in protecting New York State’s Great Lakes from invasive species and pollution that for too long have threatened our local ecosystems, economies and our health,” Cuomo said in a statement.

   A study by the federal General Accountability Office estimated that invasive species led to $137 billion a year in economic losses and other costs, more than two times what natural disasters in the United States cost each year. 

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