San Diego Coastkeeper filed suit against the U.S. Navy today for continually polluting San Diego Bay with heavy metals.

Coastkeeper’s suit says the Navy exceeded the amount of metals and other chemicals it is allowed to discharge into the bay 191 times in the last five years. The metals, such as zinc and copper, are byproducts of ship repair at Naval Base San Diego. They can get washed into the bay after rainfalls.

“The Navy is one of the largest dischargers of toxins into the bay,” said Bruce Reznik, Coastkeeper’s executive director. “What we’re hoping is to force the political will to make environmental stewardship from 32nd Street a higher priority … to safeguard our waters.”

The metals are toxic to marine life. Copper, for example, is used in anti-foulant paints that help prevent barnacle buildup on ship hulls.

Coastkeeper’s suit highlights one of the regulatory challenges stemming from the military’s pollution. State regulators cannot fine the federal government for violating discharge permits. Such fines are often used against private companies as tools to coerce improvements in pollution-prevention practices.

“It comes down to political will,” Reznik said. “It’s not the most popular thing to do.”

The suit cites the Navy’s own data to show that the base has repeatedly exceeded the legal limits of metals and other chemicals it discharges into the bay. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks to have the Navy prevent its future pollution and clean up the historic pollution it has created.

A Navy Region Southwest spokesman was not available for comment.

ROB DAVIS

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