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Marine Log

November 7, 2007

Study: Ship emissions cause 60,000 deaths a year

Demands for cuts in harmful emissions from oceangoing ships are likely to gain new urgency as the result of publication of a scientific study that indicates that the number of premature deaths resulting from such emissions totaled 60,000 in 2002, and that death toll is estimated to grow by 40 percent by 2012 due to continued large increase in global shipping traffic.

Entitled "Mortality from Ship Emissions: A Global Assessment," the peer-reviewed study has been published by the the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology. The lead authors are Dr. James J. Corbett of the University of Delaware and Dr. James Winebrake of the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The full text of the study can be accessed here.

The abstract of the study says:

Epidemiological studies consistently link ambient concentrations of particulate matter (PM) to negative health impacts, including asthma, heart attacks, hospital admissions, and premature mortality. We model ambient PM concentrations from oceangoing ships using two geospatial emissions inventories and two global aerosol models. We estimate global and regional mortalities by applying ambient PM increases due to ships to cardiopulmonary and lung cancer concentration-risk functions and population models. Our results indicate that shipping-related PM emissions are responsible for approximately 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths annually, with most deaths occurring near coastlines in Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. Under current regulation and with the expected growth in shipping activity, we estimate that annual mortalities could increase by 40% by 2012.

The study is unlikely to remain buried in some dusty academic archive. Its findings are being widely publicized by environmental groups including the Clean Air Task Force and Friends of the Earth. Both organizations are participating in IMO efforts to reduce emissions from ships. They believe the IMO should require reductions of NOx emissions in the 90% range, and reductions of SO2 emissions in the 70-90% range, for both new and existing ships as soon as possible, but no later than 2015. They say the reductions can be accomplished through the use of low sulfur fuels as well as a substantial variety of engine modifications and after-treatment devices. Substantial particulate matter reductions are also needed.

IMO has commissioned a comprehensive study, by an informal cross government/industry scientific group of experts, to review the impact of various proposed fuel options to reduce SOx and particulate matter generated by shipping and the impact such fuel options could have on other emissions, including CO2 emissions from ships and refineries, taking into account the availability of CO2 abatement technologies.

The group aims to report to IMO's Sub-Committee on Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG) in February 2008 and the Marine Environmental Protection Committee in March-April 2008.

BLG is expected to finalize the preparation of draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI, taking into account the report of the scientific study. The aim is to have the draft amendments approved at MEPC 57, in the Spring of 2008, and to adopt them at MEPC 58, in the Autumn of 2008. The amendments to MARPOL Annex VI could then enter into force 16 months after adoption, in accordance with the tacit acceptance procedure stipulated in Article 16 of the MARPOL Convention