“Shipping pollution is basically one of the last regulated or lightly regulated frontiers”

Ship Pollution Dirties New England Air
May 9, 2008

BOSTON (WBZ) ― The air quality near ocean waters isn’t nearly as healthy as New Englanders might think.

In fact, it can be downright harmful, which raises concerns about ship pollution. 

Some exercise and an ocean breeze is a daily ritual for Bob Pasquale and Chris Koskella. 

Their favorite spot is Castle Island where they see and feel the impact of the ships heading in and out of Boston Harbor. 

“I can feel it in my breathing,” said Chris Koskella. “Some days when you come down in the area, my eyes water, and I sneeze.” 

The shipping industry is booming. It’s up 10 percent in Boston Harbor this year, which is good news for the economy, but is bad news for the air quality. 

“Shipping pollution is basically one of the last regulated or lightly regulated frontiers,” said David Marshall with Clean Air Task Force. “There are about 50,000 ocean-going ships around the world.” 

Ships can weigh thousands of tons, and that takes a lot of power to move them across the waters. 

These ships have extremely large diesel engines, some of which are the size of a municipal power plant. They also burn some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet.

That means high levels of sulfur, which can cause acid rain, go into the air. There are other toxins like nitrogen oxides and something known as particulant matter, which can get deeply imbedded in lungs. 

“The air pollution is extremely toxic, and can produce substantial health effects in humans such as asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, and even premature deaths,” Marshall said. 

In fact, a study by the Clean Air Task Force estimates that ship pollution was responsible for 60,000 premature deaths in 2002. It’s estimated that up to 100 of those are around Boston Harbor. The EPA projects about 20 percent of local pollution can be attributed to ships. 

“It is going to affect things like tugboats and some of the ferries that are out there,” said Bob Judge with the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The EPA recently announced stricter pollution guidelines for small and mid-sized vessels. But they don’t address large international ships. 

“We think it will make a substantial difference, again, every little piece that we cover is one less piece that needs to be covered in the future,” Judge said. 

However, environmentalists say that leaves a big piece of the puzzle missing. In the meantime, Koskella hopes these more immediate changes will help her breathe a little easier. 

The EPA changes will be phased in, first with diesel engines that need to be rebuilt, and then with more advanced pollution controls starting in 2015. 

International talks are continuing, as they try to reach an agreement on the larger ships.

Clean Air Task Force >

  • The average lifetime diesel soot cancer risk for a resident of Humboldt County is 1 in 7,851. 
  • This risk is 127 times greater than EPA’s acceptable cancer level of 1 in a million.