July 9, 2009

Ship smokestack emissions kill thousands

Smokestack emissions from oceangoing ships will cause an estimated 87,000 deaths worldwide each year by 2012, U.S. researchers said.

James Winebrake of the Rochester Institute of Technology and colleagues note that the current finding is almost one-third higher than previously believed. Winebrake said most oceangoing ships burn fuels with a high sulfur content.

The smokestacks emit sulfur-containing particles linked to increased risk of lung and heart disease. A 2007 study by the researchers estimated about 60,000 people died prematurely around the world due to shipping-related emissions in 2002.

However, the study estimates the toll could rise to 87,000 by 2012, assuming the global shipping industry rebounds from the current economic slump and no new regulation occurs.

Policymakers are considering limiting ships' emissions by either restricting sulfur content in fuel or designating air pollution control areas to reduce air pollution near highly populated coastal areas, Winebrake said.

The study, published in the Environmental Science & Technology, said requiring ships to use marine fuel with 0.5 percent sulfur within 200 nautical miles of shore would reduce premature deaths by about 41,200.