Are Cefas Action Levels for the Disposal of Dredged Material fit for purpose?

Not according to the MMO report into the recent “High Level Review of Current UK Action Level Guidance” published at the end of 2015.

Over twenty years have passed since the introduction, by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), of threshold values for a number of sediment contaminants with respect to assessing their chemical suitability for disposal at sea. Known as the Cefas Action Levels, there are two levels: chemical Action Level 1 (cAL1) below which contaminant concentratations are generally assumed to be of no concern and are unlikely to influence the licensing decision; and contaminants in dredged material above chemical Action Level 2 (cAL2) which are generally considered to be unsuitable for sea disposal.

Whilst cAL1s were found to be protective of the marine environment, it was noted that “Cefas metal cAL1s are relatively low when compared to most OSPAR countries, especially those considered ‘comparable’ ” and hence perhaps overly conservative and possibly leading to increased costs. In contrast cAL2 s were found to be potentially failing to provide protection from pollution with the report stating:

“None of the international cAL2 values considered were effective at separating acutely toxic from non-toxic sediments and Cefas cAL2 values are among the least conservative of the OSPAR countries.”

As a result, one of the recommendations of the report was to review and revise the cALs where appropriate, but given the reluctance to take on the revised values which came out of a review in 2003 it may be sometime before any changes are made.  If you know this work has already started then please do get in touch.

For further information see the MMO report which can be downloaded at