“And what we found was a surprise, because no one expected that the contribution from ships of solid sulfur-rich particles called primary sulfate would be so high.”

Dirty Smoke from Ships Found to Degrade Air Quality in Coastal Cities
University of California, San Diego
August 18, 2008
By Kim McDonald

 

Ah, nothing like breathing clean coastal air, right? Think again.

Chemists at UC San Diego have measured for the first time the impact that dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and generating electricity in port can have on the air quality of coastal cities.

The scientists report in this week’s early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the impact of dirty smoke from ships burning high-sulfur fuel can be substantial, on some days accounting for nearly one-half of the fine, sulfur-rich particulate matter in the air known to be hazardous to human health.

Their results have particular significance for the state of California, which will require, beginning next July, that all tankers, cargo and cruise ships sailing into a California port switch to more expensive, cleaner-burning fuels when they come within 24 miles of the coast. Similar international rules requiring clean-burning ship fuels are set to take effect in 2015.

While those regulations are intended to minimize the potential hazards dirty ship smoke may pose to human health and the environment—which some researchers have estimated may be responsible for as many as 60,000 deaths worldwide and a cost to the U.S. economy of $500 million a year—no one knows the actual impact of ship smoke. The reason is that air quality experts have been unable to quantify the specific contribution of ship smoke to the air pollution of coastal cities—until now.

 

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