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Ship Pollution In Ports On Rise, Says Researchers

The Economic Times – 25 Aug, 2008, 0000 hrs IST, AGENCIES

Dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and while running engines in port in order to generate electricity affects the air quality of coastal cities like Houston, according to researchers belonging to University of California. Scientists from the University of California at San Diego report 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.

Until now, air quality experts have been unable to quantify the specific contribution of ship smoke to the air pollution of coastal cities.

“Ships are really unregulated when it comes to air pollution standards. 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,” said Mark Thiemens, dean of the division of physical sciences and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university at San Diego.

Primary sulfate, or SO4, is produced when ships burn a cheap, sulfur-rich fuel called “bunker oil.” Although more sulphur is typically found in other particles produced by ships, SO4 particulates are particularly harmful to humans because they are especially fine microscopic particles that can remain in the lungs. The tiny particles can also travel long distances.

The scientists developed a chemical fingerprinting technique that distinguished ship smoke primary sulfate from the tailpipe emissions of trucks, cars and other sources.

These techniques should help regulators in other states and countries monitor the impact of ships off their coasts as new restrictions on bunker oil burning by ships are implemented, the researchers said. International rules requiring clean-burning ship fuels are set to take effect in 2015.

“Because a large part of the world’s population live in major cities with shipping ports – such as Houston, New York City, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore – and global shipping is expected to increase in the decades to come, this should help policy makers around the world make more informed decisions about improving the health of their citizens,” Mr Thiemens said.

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