Death by ships

Pollution from marine shipping causes approximately 60,000 premature cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths around the world each year.


Pollution from marine shipping causes approximately 60,000 premature cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths around the world each year, according to a new report.


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.


Conducted by James Corbett of the University of Delaware and James Winebrake from the Rochester Institute of Technology, the study correlates the global distribution of particulate matter -black carbon, sulphur, nitrogen and organic particles – released from ships’ smoke stacks with heart disease and lung cancer mortalities in adults.


The results indicate that approximately 60,000 people die prematurely around the world each year from shipping-related emissions. Under current regulation, and with the expected growth in shipping activity, Corbett and Winebrake estimate the annual mortalities from ship emissions could increase by 40 percent by 2012.


Corbett and Winebrake’s results come in the midst of current discussions by the International Maritime Organization to regulate emissions from ships.


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.


Ships run on residual oil, which has sulphur content thousands of times greater than on-road diesel fuel. ‘Residual oil is a by-product of the refinery process and tends to be much dirtier than other petroleum products,’ said Winebrake, chair of RIT’s Department of Science, Technology and Society/Public Policy.


‘Our work will help people decide at what scale action should be taken,’ added Corbett, associate professor of marine policy at University of Delaware. ‘We want our analysis to enable dialogue about how to improve the environment and economic performance of our freight systems.’


The focus on long-term exposure to particulate matter in the study does not extend to impacts on children or other related health issues such as respiratory disease, asthma, hospital admissions and the economic impact of missed workdays and lost productivity.