Aircraft carrier that must be sunk can contaminate fish food chain; understand the risks


The decision by the Ministry of Defense to sink the hull of the aircraft carrier São Paulo provoked reactions from Ibama (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural and Renewable Resources) and the MPF (Federal Public Prosecution Service) because of the environmental risk for the region in question. that the operation should take place.

In addition to the release of asbestos (banned in Brazil since 2017), experts interviewed by the report claim that another compound can contaminate fish, marine mammals and even humans who consume seafood in the region.

It is also estimated that there are tons of polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, in ship components.

Understand what they are and the damage caused by these compounds.


PCBs have been widely used in industry for their stability. Its use occurred in different applications, such as lubricants in electrical and hydraulic equipment, and also to give flexibility to plastic, rubber and paint products.

The final product can be found in a variety of forms, from a light colored thin liquid to solids with a waxy consistency, yellow or black, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, in free translation).


PCBs are in cables, circuits, electrical components. They can be released into the water if the aircraft carrier is actually sunk. On Wednesday (1st), the Defense said that the chosen location, according to Navy studies, is 350 km from the coast and has a depth of 5,000 meters. The conditions were considered the safest for the operation by the force’s Hydrography Center. The so-called controlled sinking will be done by a series of explosions to open holes in the hull.


There is also about nine tons of asbestos in the ship, which will be released into the water after the sinking. But the product may not be the biggest problem in contaminating the local environment, according to Nicola Mulinaris, from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

“The main problem is not asbestos. It would be a problem for the workers who were going to dismantle the ship at a recycling yard if they don’t have the necessary protection”, he says, regarding the recommended measure of dismantling and “cleaning” the ship, disposing of it correctly. the dangerous components.

“The problem in this case is a very high amount of materials such as cables, which contain PCBs. A very dangerous substance for the environment”, says Mulinaris. “It is very dangerous because we believe that inside the ship there are 200 tons of material with PCBs.”


With the ship sunk, corrosion of the vessel’s cables and components will release the substance into the water. The product does not degrade in the environment, remaining in the water for a long time and being absorbed by plankton, small crustaceans and fish. “And then we consume contaminated fish, already at a high level, and that is very dangerous”, says Nicola.


The product has already been banned in other countries. In 2021, the Brazilian government passed a law that mandates the controlled elimination of PCBs by 2025, because of risks associated with cancer and birth defects. Elimination of the compound is also provided for in the Stockholm Convention, to which Brazil is a signatory.

In the United States, the product was used from 1929 to 1977, when it was banned, with final regulations published by the EPA in 1979.

As the aircraft carrier São Paulo, originally called Foch, was built in the 1950s, it contains the materials. Estimates of PCBs on the vessel come from a similar vessel, the Clemenceau, built in the same decade.


Like Mulinaris, from Shipbreaking Platform, Leandro Ramos, director of programs at Greenpeace Brasil, says that an aircraft carrier like the São Paulo should be dismantled, have the hull repaired and undergo recycling, removing the compounds that will release the PCBs in the water.

“Brazil does not have an installation capable of carrying out this procedure and, therefore, exporting the aircraft carrier to a country with a shipyard accredited by the Basel Convention is the necessary measure to ensure the protection of the population and marine life “, he states. The convention cited by him determines guidelines for the safe management of waste.

This Thursday (2), the MPF appealed to the Federal Regional Court of the 5th Region against the decision of the first instance of the Federal Court in Pernambuco that denied a request for an injunction to prevent the hull of the aircraft carrier São Paulo from being sunk in Brazilian waters.

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