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Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet Assessment Project

Suisun Bay Project Data

Assessment of Environmental Contaminants Associated with the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California (pdf, 10.9 mb)

Office of Response and Restoration

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Report Eases Contamination Concerns Over Reserve Ships in Suisun Bay

A NOAA report finds that contaminant levels in the vicinity of a fleet of over 70 aging ships moored in Suisun Bay, California, are similar to those found in other parts of San Francisco Bay.

At the request of Congress, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) conducted the study to address concerns about peeling paint and hazardous material release raised by several environmental groups and the state of California.

Reserve Fleet

Seven rafts of vessels, similar to this one, make up the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California.

The ships make up part of a nationwide fleet of obsolete or decommissioned vessels called the National Defense Reserve Fleet. The U.S. Maritime Administration manages the fleet for potential national defense use or for emergency response during events such as Hurricane Katrina. The reserve fleet program started in 1946 at the end of World War II. At its peak in 1950, the program had more than 2,000 ships at several locations throughout the country.

“NOAA is pleased to provide scientific expertise and guidance to help answer questions about potential impacts the reserve fleet vessels may be having on the natural resources of Suisun Bay,” said Rob Ricker, regional manager for OR&R.

During the summer of 2008, NOAA scientists collected surface and subsurface sediment samples – more than 200 samples from 72 locations in the bay – as well as tissue samples from mussels and clams at 15 sites in the Suisun Bay study area.

Mussel deployment

Bags of mussels like these were deployed at nine sampling stations in the Reserve Fleet and other locations throughout Suisun Bay.

Sampling locations were selected based on an analysis of areas in the vicinity of the fleet where water currents were most likely to transport and deposit sediments and fleet-related contaminants. Sampling close to the fleet enabled scientists to determine with a greater degree of confidence whether the contaminants originated from the vessels.

Samples were analyzed in the laboratory for a suite of metals and other compounds sometimes found in vessel paint, including lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). They also measured levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in petroleum products. After the year-long analysis, NOAA scientists found metals, PCBs, and other compounds at levels comparable to those at other locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Based on this analysis, NOAA did not recommend any specific cleanup actions.

The findings from the environmental assessment are available in the final report called Assessment of Environmental Contaminants Associated with the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California.