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Study Links Pollution from Marine Vessels to Heart and Lung Disease; Annual Deaths from Ship Emissions Could Increase 40% by 2012

Pollution from marine shipping causes approximately 60,000 premature cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths around the world each year, according to a report published online in the Articles ASAP section of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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 University of Delaware and James Winebrake from Rochester Institute of Technology, the study correlates the global distribution of particulate matter—black carbon, sulfur, 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% 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—a byproduct of the refinery process&mash;which has sulfur content thousands of times greater than on-road diesel fuel.

We needed to know what the benefits are of cleaning up this fuel. Now we can evaluate the human health impacts of policies to require low-sulfur fuels for the shipping industry or that require ships to put emissions control technology on their vessels. Our study will help inform this policy debate.

—James Winebrake

Up until recently, researchers had little information with which to work; emissions data for marine vessels had to be linked with data tracking the movement of these vessels around the world. In their report, Corbett and Winebrake mapped marine pollution concentrations over the oceans and on land, estimating global and regional mortalities from ship emissions by integrating global ship inventories, atmospheric models and health impacts analyses.

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

This study was supported in part by the Oak Foundation, the German Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren and by the German Aerospace Center within the Young Investigators Group SeaKLIM.

A separate study published in Environmental Science & Technology, also by Corbett and Winebrake, models the cost-effectiveness of control strategies for reducing SO2 emissions from US foreign commerce ships traveling in existing European or hypothetical US West Coast SOx Emission Control Areas (SECAs) under international maritime regulations.

The study found that compared to regulations prescribing low sulfur fuels, a performance-based policy can save up to $260 million for these ships with 80% more emission reductions than required because least-cost options on some individual ships outperform standards.

Optimal simulation of a market-based SO2 control policy for ~4,700 US foreign commerce ships traveling in the SECAs in 2002 shows that SECA emissions control targets can be achieved by scrubbing exhaust gas of one out of ten ships with annual savings up to $480 million over performance-based policy. A market-based policy could save the fleet ~$63 million annually under the best-estimate scenario.

(A hat-tip to Dick!)




What kind of power plant are we talking about, a boiler burning "bunker C" making steam to power a steam engine, or big diesels. I expect just like diesels are more unhealthy than gasolene engines, oil burning is even more unhelthy than diesels.

Now the Long Beach/ Los Angeles Harbor has lots of ships and lots of legacy diesel trucks. Anyone want to move to San Pedro and breath the brown fog??


Among the many hazards dockworkers & shipmates face, bunker oil emissions officially got added to the list...after 100+years.

60,000 casualties yearly...& that doesn't include those 'civilians' with health problems already who have to breath bunker oil emissions mixed into on-shore breezes...or worse, under stagnant air conditions.

Thank you James Corbett & James Winebrake for your research. No thank you to employers that made billions(trillions?) on bunker oil usage. Please continue your research Corbett & Winebrake. 60,000 should only be the tip of the iceberg.


I wonder if these guys can solve the problem:



The text of the article suggests that adult "civilian" casualties are indeed counted into this estimate -- only children and certain subsidiarly diseases were excluded.

Harvey D


We all know the solution. Stop burning fossil fuel or find a way to burn it clean.

Large (future) fuel cells could be one of the possible acceptable solution. A small on board nuclear up-to-date plant and/or compact wind mills + solar could also supply the clean energy required.

Ships (and rail roads) partial and/or total electrification should be a mid term objective.

Well this might hurt the annual Caribbean Carnival Cruise business in Florida if the old farts ever find out.

Ben and litesong,

No need to panic! Just scrub the exhaust from the smoke tack of the ships that are bound for heavily-populated harbors. Already, very cost-effective solutions are at hand, from the article:

Optimal simulation of a market-based SO2 control policy for ~4,700 US foreign commerce ships traveling in the SECAs in 2002 shows that SECA emissions control targets can be achieved by scrubbing exhaust gas of one out of ten ships with annual savings up to $480 million over performance-based policy. A market-based policy could save the fleet ~$63 million annually under the best-estimate scenario.


NBK-Boston...Yes, that is what I said about sick 'civilians'. Thanks for highliting the children weren't included in the study. With further studies, we will see what the final toll is. Surely, detailed studies will reveal high rates of lung, heart, circulation, & other organ diseases in children & extra stress due to marine emissions on those 'civilians' already sick. We will see whether 60,000 causualties is a big or little tip of the iceberg.

Hi Anon....No need to panic for the 100+years of dead already piled up. They ARE ALREADY DEAD. So solutions are at hand already...but not in place. & how effective are these solutions. Or is only the 'solutions talk' effective. I remember the emissions limits the Feds had on some of the land-based chimneys in our port decades ago. Things seemed so fine....during the day. But we longshoreman knew something was amiss in the regulations. At times at 12 o'clock midnight on our night shifts, the chimneys would open up pouring black smoke into the darkness.

But Anon. Please don't cry for the dead. Its so...inconvenient.


Cant marine diesel run lower sulpher D or electrify inport...tomorrow? Theres quite a difference between 30000ppm and 15. Whats the point of T2B5 with this disparity?

Roger Pham

Great points, fred. In fact, some time ago, there was an article in GCC about the use of LNG (liquefy Natural Gas) electrical generator for ships docking at port, in order to eliminate diesel pollution. I think that the article states that it is much more economical to scrub the exhaust tack of ships than to require low sulfur bunker fuel. It takes H2 to remove sulfur from diesel fuel, and H2 comes from NG...might as well run diesel engine straight off the NG or renewable bio-methane.


Yes, there are relatively inexpensive partial solutions because we knew marine pollutions were real even without health studies. The solutions haven't been implemented because few people cared. Now, who will leap foreward to solve this? Time is ticking. Many hearts have stopped ticking. How many hearts will stop ticking?

Bill Young


The South African Pebble Bed reactor is very much oriented to land based use. If you want a marine nuclear engine, look at This site also is linked to a similar nuclear marine engine in the Netherlands. These are both pebble bed reactors, like the South African units.

For commercial marine propulsion, pebble bed reactors may be superior to PWRs which are the current state of the art reactors for all of the nuclear navies.

Nuclear marine propulsion has the competitive advantage of being able to travel at hull speed, about twice as fast as most marine shipping. Of course, it has no emissions to worry about.

The disadvantages of nuclear shipping are the higher capital cost and probably higher crew costs. Also the issues of piracy and terrorism are a greater concern with nuclear powered vessels.

As with all nuclear reactors, used fuel handling and disposition is a technical and political concern.

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