CEO of Largest US Auto Retailer Calling for Ongoing Increases In Federal Gas Tax
First US LNG Terminal Tractors to Operate at Port of Los Angeles

Ports Contribute 21% of Particulate Matter in SoCal Air Basin

Container ship at Port of Long Beach

In a just-released analysis, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) has found that diesel PM emissions from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach contributed some 21% of the total South Coast Air Basin PM emissions in 2002.

Together, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach form the third-largest port complex in the world.

The ARB study assessed the impacts from airborne particulate matter emissions from diesel-fueled engines associated with port activities at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (ports) located in Southern California.

The study focused on the on-port property emissions from locomotives, on-road heavy-duty trucks, and cargo handling equipment used to move containerized and bulk cargo such as yard trucks, side-picks, rubber tire gantry cranes, and forklifts. The study also evaluated the at-berth and over-water emissions impacts from ocean-going vessel main and auxiliary engine emissions as well as commercial harbor craft such as passenger ferries and tugboats.

Key findings from the study are:

  • Diesel PM emissions from the ports are a major contributor to diesel PM in the South Coast Air Basin. The combined diesel PM emissions from the ports are estimated to be about 1,760 tons per year in 2002, or 21% of the total SCAB diesel PM emissions in 2002.

    Emissions from ship activities (transiting, maneuvering, and hotelling) account for the largest percentage of emissions at about 73%, followed by cargo-handling equipment (10%), commercial harbor craft vessels (14%), in-port heavy duty trucks (2%), and in-port locomotives (1%).

  • Diesel PM emissions from the ports result in elevated cancer risk levels over the entire 20-mile by 20-mile study area.

    In areas near the port boundaries, potential cancer risk levels exceed 500 in a million. As you move away from the ports, the potential cancer risk levels decrease but continue to exceed 50 in a million for more than 15 miles.

    Primary diesel PM emissions from the ports also result in potential non-cancer health impacts within the modeling receptor domain. The non-cancer health effects evaluated include premature death, asthma attacks, work loss days, and minor restricted activity days.

    Based on this study, average numbers of cases per year that would be expected in the modeling area have been estimated as follows:

    • 29 premature deaths (for ages 30 and older), 14 to 43 deaths as 95% confidence interval (CI);
    • 750 asthma attacks, 180 to 1300 as 95% CI;
    • 6,600 days of work loss (for ages 18-65), 5,600 to 7,600 as 95% CI;
    • 35,000 minor restricted activity days (for ages 18-65), 28,000 to 41,000 as 95% CI.

  • “Hotelling” emissions from ocean-going vessel auxiliary engines and emissions from cargo handling equipment are the primary contributors to the higher pollution related health risks near the ports, accounting for about 20% of the total diesel PM emissions from the ports.

    These emissions are responsible for about 34% of the port emissions related risk in the modeling receptor domain based on the population-weighted average risk. These emissions resulted in the largest area (2,036 acres) where the potential cancer risk levels were greater than 200 in a million in the nearby communities.

    The second highest category contributing to cancer risk levels above 200 in a million was cargo handling equipment, which impacted a residential area of 410 acres and is responsible for about 20% of the total risk in the modeling receptor domain based on the population-weighted average risk.

    Reducing emissions from these two categories will have the most dramatic effect on reducing the port emissions related risks in nearby communities.

  • Emissions from commercial harbor craft, in-port trucks, in-port rail, and ocean-going vessels (transit and maneuvering activities) account for a much smaller percentage of the near source risk, but are an important contributor to elevated cancer risk levels over a very large area.

While noting that the draft report highlights some uncertainties in modeling and risk assessment, the Diesel Technology Forum commented:

Ports are the final and potentially most challenging frontier of clean air policy due in large part to the magnitude and types of equipment in use, differing regulatory authorities and the complex nature of port operations.




To me, it seems like this is really good news, with a caveat. That so much PM is coming from a single source with public oversight makes it much easier to reduce the PM output. The caveat: 73% is coming from the ships themselves, and I have no idea if California or the SoCal region can put any pressure on the shipping boats themselves to reduce emissions.


Are ships required to use low-sulphur diesel (<500ppm)? I am not talking about ULSD that we have yet to see - my recollection was that they could still use regular sulphur diesel (with levels of something like <5000ppm).

Perhaps one starting point would be a world agreement or treaty to require LSD (<500ppm) for marine applications. Failing that, perhaps the ports themselves could require that ships arriving use LSD.

Mark A

And all this time everyone was blaming auto emissions for this problem.............


^ Don't forget about the other 79%...


Boats use a very different grade fuel from a car and no its definetly not low sulfer. Its cheap.


There are very interesting cost-benefit tradeoffs with regards to diesel. I don't have a clue what the absolute best answer is, but I think it is interesting that ships generate so many particulates, while on-shore, we are not allowed to buy TDI Beatles.


Its not surprising after all the grade of fuel used is very very low and contains some rather long chain carbons as I remember it.

Its alot thicker then car style fuels. Its main quality is its cheap.


Does the port operate 24/7? Would this have any bearing on the "weekend effect" seen with NOx numbers?


The fuel used in ships is called "bunker fuel", and it could best be referred to as ultra-high sulfer diesel. It's basically the stuff that refineries can't manage to make into asphalt. One of the proposals to decrease emissions in the region is to make them burn a cleaner distilate as they get closer into port, but I have no idea what the status of this is. Apparently ships are regulated by maritime law even in the ports, so AQMD can't _make_ them do anything.


The ships could be hooked to grid power while docked.
Tugs using ULSD or JetA could move them in and out of port so their main engines could be shut down. The Coast Guard could be given the authority to impose such rules. Since the on shore vehicles don't travel that far and don't go fast they could be converted to battery power or CNG. These things could happen but don't hold your breath no matter how wheezy it is.

Joe Deely

Lots of good comments...

A couple of points.

This is 21% of DIESEL particle emissions .... there are many other sources of particle emissions besides diesel.

As far as the blaming auto emission comment... since this percentage is only for diesel emissions this really doesn't apply...obviously a very small percentage of diesel PM emissions would be from autos.

I too, think this is good news... CARB has done a great job helping to clean up Auto emissions in general... changes to the auto population over the next 15 years will automatically clean up this contributor to air pollution even more. This is why you are seeing CARB beginning to concentrate on other contributors such as ports, dairies, farming etc...

Robert Schwartz

There was a long article about this in the Wall Street Journal a while back (sorry no url, I do not have a subscription to theier web-site). Tom has the solution -- Make the ships hook up to grid power while in port. There are technical, economic and jurisdictional issues, but they should not be insupperable.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)