The air quality on cruise ships could pose a threat to passengers young and old as a new report has found that some cruise ships have high levels of particulate matter comparable to large polluted cities.
The cruise ship industry is only growing despite the many mishaps that have occurred in recent years including ships being set adrift due to power outages and engine fires, disease outbreaks, bouts of food poisoning, and damages incurred during rough weather.
In 2017 there were nearly 27 million cruise ship passengers, according to the Cruise Lines International Association annual report, and Carnival, Royal Caribbean International, and Norwegian Cruise Lines dominate the industry.
Ryan David Kennedy, a researcher from John Hopkins University, conducted an undercover study measuring air pollution on four different Carnival cruise ships over the course of two years.
The study was funded by the campaign group Stand.earth which is currently working on getting major cruise ship liners to stop using heavy fuel oil (HFO).
According to the recently published report, HFO generates exhaust with harmful levels of sulfur and metals that are toxic or carcinogenic. This exhaust poses a threat to passengers, crew and also port communities.
Kennedy boarded four cruise ships for the study and unbeknownst to the crew or passengers took measurements of pollutants on different parts of the ship like the bow and stern. Particulate measurements were made using a P-TRAK Ultrafine Particle Counter.
The measurements all showed higher concentrations of particulate matter at the back of the ship compared to the other areas of the ship that were tested.
In some areas of the ship, the air quality was so poor that Kennedy compared it to the highly polluted city Beijing.
“The average PM readings in the stern areas of each ship were significantly higher than the average readings measured fore of the smokestacks (towards the bow),” Kennedy wrote in the report. “The findings of this study demonstrate that a source of PM – likely, in part from the ship’s exhaust system – is contributing to poorer air quality in the stern areas of these cruise ships. Despite being on the open water and in open air, vacationers and cruise ship staff may be exposed to elevated concentrations of PM.”
It is important to note that the report was not published in a peer-reviewed journal and that there may be a conflict of interest. A spokesperson from Carnival told the Daily Mail that the cruise line is dedicated to the safety and wellbeing of its passengers.
“We test the air quality of our ships, and they meet or exceed every requirement,” the spokesperson told the Daily Mail. “The air quality on our ship decks when in port compares favorably with a typical urban or suburban environment. Independent testing on our funnels – which is the area where the exhaust originates- further validates our claims.”
However, the report is still a cause for concern as it shows that pollution on cruise ships is potentially harmful and could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems for those exposed.