Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Toxic pollution scandal from ships

Do you know what is the last virtually unregulated toxic pollution scandal in the US? Air pollution from big ships burning seriously dirty diesel fuel is causing 8,300 premature deaths in the US and Canada, and it's just now getting some regulatory attention.

If you live near a port in the state of Washington, then you breathe the most toxic are in the state. Worse than near a paper mill, a freeway, or an airport. Ugh. Air pollution from ships is a huge problem that needs a solution.

How lenient are the rules on big ships? According to the Seattle Times:

Unlike most diesel-powered vehicles, these ships have largely escaped regulation, partly because most are registered in other countries. As a result, large freighters often burn thick, syrupy oil filled with sulfur, a major contributor to toxic diesel soot. The fuel in these ships averages 27,000 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By comparison, diesel trucks must use fuel with only 15 ppm.

Due in part to this dirty fuel, neighborhoods around ports had the most toxic air in Washington state, according to a 2006 Seattle Times analysis.

To me, it's a scandal that we've had to tolerate this situation until now. Is it really ok to allow 8,300 premature deaths, caused by ship fuel that's 2000 times dirtier than truck diesel fuel?

Finally, some action. A new proposal before the International Maritime Organization will reduce (not solve) the problem. Thank goodness for some action, and it's about time.


Anonymous said...

Shipping industry pales in comparison to airports both as a local source toxic, criteria and also, climate change polluter (aviation industry).

(Source: http://areco.org/studies.htm )

Mister Kurtz said...

Virtually all merchant ships burn heavy "bunker" fuel instead of diesel, and it is pretty nasty stuff. The cost of re-powering all this tonnage would be absolutely stupendous; and of course, nobody has the jurisdiction to order that. The IMO compromise is the best that can be hoped.
Aviation is an even more vexing problem, although the quantity of fuel burned is far, far less; and jet fuel is a lot cleaner than bunkers. As soon as that hybrid/solar/wind powered airplane is ready to go, I'm all over it...

Anonymous said...

Blogger Philip said...
"Virtually all merchant ships burn heavy "bunker" fuel instead of diesel, and it is pretty nasty stuff."

Actually, the additives in jet fuel are extremely toxic (some illegal or banned for most all other industries but are allowed because under the guise of “safety” [cheap additives]).

Note: I am not saying that shipping is not a problem; it is, but the EPA promised me some years ago that aviation would be regulated before shipping because it was so much worse of a problem. But, the government owns and regulates aviation and, it is very difficult for them to come clean about the problems, let alone the political side…

"Aviation is an even more vexing problem, although the quantity of fuel burned is far, far less;"

I am not sure about that because of the shear amount of flights worldwide.
http://radar.zhaw.ch/resources/airtraffic.wmv (this is just commercial, if I remember correctly.)

"...and jet fuel is a lot cleaner than bunkers."

See above answer. Note also, that about 97%-100% of jet exhaust is PM 2.5; whereas, ship exhaust is as big as a rock and somewhat naturally filtered by the body. Jet exhaust is mainlined directly into the blood stream.

Also note: heavy bunker fuel falls to the ground or is assimilated very quickly, generally within several hundreds of feet behind the ship; whereas, aircraft fly over head, like toxic crop dusters.

One quick example: Just one airport, O'Hare, kills over 400 people (residents) annually caused by cancer. Cancer is not even close to the worst airport-poisoning diseases of which there are dozens.

An eye opening benchmark study to read is one done by the states, overseen by the USEPA.
One caveat: the extraordinarily massive amounts of pollution they present are aircraft only causal; you must times that amount by 2 or 3 to get the relative airport emissions included.

Mister Kurtz said...

Good points, Anonymous. I imagine there are some safety factors involved in anything affecting the reformulation of jet fuel. The FAA is notoriously conservative about such things (witness Cessnas that still fly with points & condensers, mechanical fuel injection, etc .)

Anonymous said...

Blogger Philip said...
"I imagine there are some safety factors involved in anything affecting the reformulation of jet fuel."

For the most part, the FAA for its customers, wants cheap fuel that is relatively cheap.

Captain Fantastic said...


In the Times ~

"Britain’s west coast is likely to be so badly affected by shipping pollution that average life expectancy for people living in or near coastal towns could be reduced by 20-30 months from 2020."

Cheers Cpatain