New research has established a link between pollution from marine vessels and heart and lung disease.
The report benchmarks for the first time the number of annual deaths caused globally by pollution from marine vessels, with coastal regions in Asia and Europe the most affected.
The study, undertaken by James Corbett and James Winebrake, correlates the global distribution of particulate matter (black carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and organic particles) released from the smoke stacks of ships with heart disease and lung cancer mortalities in adults.
Under current regulation, and with the expected growth in shipping activity, it is estimated that the annual mortalities from ship emissions could increase by 40 percent by 2012. Annual deaths related to shipping emissions in Europe are estimated at 26,710, while the mortality rate is 19,870 in East Asia and 9,950 in South Asia.
North America has approximately 5,000 premature deaths, concentrated mostly in the Gulf Coast region, the West Coast and the Northeast, while the eastern coast of South America has 790 mortalities. The primary reason for the health risk is the residual oil, on which the ships run. It has sulfur content thousands of times greater than on-road diesel fuel. "Residual oil is a byproduct of the refinery process and tends to be much dirtier than other petroleum products," said Winebrake. "We needed to know what the benefits are of cleaning up this fuel," explains Winebrake. "Now we can evaluate the human health impacts of policies to require low-sulfur fuels for the shipping industry or that require ships to put emissions control technology on their vessels. Our study will help inform this policy debate," he adds.
Up until recently, researchers had little information with which to work. Emissions data for marine vessels had to be linked with data tracking the movement of these vessels around the world. In the new report, researchers have mapped marine pollution concentrations over the oceans and on land. This has helped to estimate global and regional mortalities from ship emissions by integrating global ship inventories, atmospheric models and health impacts analyses.
"This study will help inform policymakers about some of the health impacts associated with ship emissions and the long range transport of those emissions to population centers," said Winebrake. "We now have a benchmark by which we can begin to evaluate the benefits of emission reduction policies," he added.
"Our work will help people decide at what scale action should be taken," says Corbett. "We want our analysis to enable richer dialogue among stakeholders about how to improve the environment and economic performance of our freight systems," he added. The report has come in the midst of current discussions by the International Maritime Organization to regulate emissions from ships.