Warning over death toll of ship fumes

EMISSIONS from ships are killing 60,000 people a year and the number could rise dramatically in the next five years, it was claimed today.That's a town the size of Bury St Edmunds or half the population of Ipswich.

By Richard Cornwell

EMISSIONS from ships are killing 60,000 people a year and the number could rise dramatically in the next five years, it was claimed today.

That's a town the size of Bury St Edmunds or half the population of Ipswich.

Most of the deaths are in Europe and Asia and are from heart and lung-related cancers and diseases.

But today people in Suffolk - especially those living close to the Port of Felixstowe, Britain's biggest container port - were assured they were not at great risk.

Government, too, has said efforts are being made to make shipping a cleaner industry with more efficient engines and fuels. There has been concern at Felixstowe over carbon dioxide and sulphur oxide pumped out of ships' funnels but government experts say the vessels are too far away from homes and residents for people to be affected. Residents have been worried about the wind blowing the pollution particles over nearby housing estates.

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In the UK, the EU says about 30,000 people a year die from air pollution - most from pollution from vehicles in big cities.

Despite their reputation for being a clean form of transport, ocean-going vessels pump out about 800 million tonnes of CO2 a year - twice as much as the world's airline fleet.

Latest research for the American Chemical Society says 60,000 people die a year from ships' fumes, and in this could rise by 40pc in the next five years because of increases in shipping activity.

The European Commission says “ships are fast becoming the biggest source of air pollution in the European Union and unless more action is taken they are set to emit more than all land sources combined by 2020”.

Now the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is stepping up action on greenhouse gases and has ordered a report by next autumn on how the problem is to be tackled.

“For a long time there's been this perception that ship emissions are out there in the ocean and they don't really affect anyone on land and I think this study shows that this is clearly false,” said David Marshall, of the Clean Air Task Force.

“They do matter and they do need to be controlled.”

At Felixstowe, while workers at the port are close to the ships every day, the nearest the public get is the port viewing area, which officials say is 600 metres from the main berthing area.

While the port has around 8,600 shipping movements a year, detailed assessments are only needed if the public come within 250 metres of the vessels.

An analysis is taking place to calculate if ships will have an effect once the new Landguard deepwater terminal is created.

A Suffolk Coastal spokeswoman said: “We are currently monitoring specific pollutants - nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and small particles - at Adastral Close, Felixstowe, for a 12 month period to allow comparison with UK Air Quality Objectives.

“The monitoring period finishes at the end of January 2008 when the results will be dealt with by an analytical consultancy firm. Their report should be available at the end of February when it will be submitted to DEFRA for their approval.”

Are you worried about the impact of ships' emissions on your health? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

WHILE they may emit more greenhouse gases than jet planes, ships are still far greener than other forms of transport.

Large ships burn oils with a high sulphur content and can produce short-term concentrations of sulphur dioxide, although auxiliary engines used in port - when they are berthed at Felixstowe - usually use a lower sulphur fuel and “are unlikely to be significant”.

Recent research indicated that for 100 tonnes of average goods travelling 500 kilometres, the carbon dioxide production from a ship would be 0.75 tonnes.

For an electrified train, 2.9 tonnes, and for a 40 tonne truck, 3.9 tonnes.

With goods now travelling across the globe to their destinations and world trade growing shipping emissions are accelerating - in particular, carbon dioxide.

Britain has worked hard with the IMO and has succeeded in having the North Sea and English Channel designated as a SOx Emission Control Area - which means the maximum permitted level of sulphur in fuel has been reduced to 1.5pc from this month.

The government is actively encouraging the manufacture of scrubber units for ships' engines and monitoring equipment, and to reduce the level of sulphur in marine fuels to one pc by 2010 and 0.5pc by 2015.

Earlier this year, the then shipping minister Stephen Ladyman said: “No-one should be in any doubt that shipping faces some urgent challenges if it is to retain its environmental lead over other transport modes.

“Other modes of transport - particularly road transport - have made significant progress on cutting emissions. A modern Ford Fiesta is at least 20 times cleaner than its 1970s predecessor.

“There's absolutely no reason why shipping shouldn't drive down emissions in a similar way.

“Reducing carbon emissions is our overriding priority - and yet this is the area where shipping has made the least progress.”

AUTHORS of the report say their 60,000 estimate of the number of people killed by shipping pollution is a fraction of those killed by pollution every year.

The figure is calculated from a computer model analysing deaths from people who have suffered heart and lung disease caused by fine particulate matter (PM) which is passed into the atmosphere in the fumes of aircraft, cars, lorries and ships.

Worldwide health organisations report between 740,000 and 880,000 deaths due to PM each year - depending whether the people were monitored and assessed for sulphates, organic and elemental carbon, nitrates, ammonia and a variety of heavy metals, or simply sulphate and carbon/organic matter.

Dr James Corbett, of the University of Delaware, and Dr James Winebrake, of the Rochester Institute of Technology, compiled the report into shipping pollution, called Mortality from Ship Emissions: A Global Assessment, which was then checked by other professors. It was compiled for the Clean Air Task Force.

They used model ranges with a three per cent to eight per cent range of the total deaths to calculate the number of deaths due to shipping emissions, taking into account the size of coastal cities and towns worldwide.

This produced a “best estimate” death total as high as 60,000 of the 880,000 deaths. The rest are due to pollution from traffic, mostly in big cities, and industrial processes.

Further calculations to identify high risk areas showed in Europe the number of deaths could be between 27pc and 42pc of that figure.

They estimate the number will grow by 40pc by 2012 due to continued large increase in global shipping traffic.

The authors say diesel-powered ocean-going ships burn some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet today - on average, fuel having almost 2,000 times the sulphur content of highway diesel fuel.

While air pollution from diesel trucks and buses has been reduced by more than 90pc, emissions from international ships - using the same diesel engine technology - have risen virtually unchecked.

“Ship pollution affects the health of communities in coastal and inland regions around the world, yet pollution from ships remain one of the least regulated parts of our global transportation system,” said Dr Corbett, associate professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware.

“With more than half the world's population living in coastal regions and freight growth outpacing other sectors, shipping emissions will need to meet stricter control targets.”

DEATHS from poor air quality include people suffering from asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart and diseases, and respiratory allergies.

The European Union has reported that 310,000 people die in Europe each year because of air pollution.

It says 32,000 of these are in the UK - based on government figures - with 65,000 in Germany, France 36,000, Italy 39,000, Poland 27,000, Spain 14,000, Holland, 13,000, and Hungary 11,000.

Most of the deaths are from traffic - more than 1,000 deaths in London each year are due in part to traffic pollution - and industrial processes, but weather conditions also contribute, causing summer and winter smogs.

The World Health Organisation says the figure worldwide could be as high as 2.4 million.