A new regulation created by the International Maritime Organization requires that all marine fuels contain 80 to 86 percent less sulfur by 2020.
The regulation was created in response to global health concerns about the pollution emitted from marine shipping operations. Sulfur particles, in particular, can cause many respiratory diseases and asthma in children.
Air pollution from ships have the largest impact in coastal cities next to popular shipping routes, and almost 14 million cases of childhood asthma reported each year are linked to shipping fuels.
Sulfur particles and pollutants from shipping also contribute to early deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
A new study examining the possible effects of reducing sulfur emissions from marine shipping found that cleaner fuel would reduce childhood asthma by 3.6 percent worldwide.
However, the study also found that sulfur particles offset somewhat the effects of global warming, and cleaner fuel could increase the impact of climate change.
The study was conducted by an international team researchers from the University of Delaware, the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York, and Energy and Environmental Research Associates.
The researchers used satellite records to create a state-of-the-art models of global ship traffic. The model showed where emissions from shipping fuels were at their highest and what shipping lanes and emissions would be like in the coming years.
Another model mapping emission disbursement highlighted those residential and city areas with the most exposure to sulfur and pollution from ships.
The results show that while the new regulation will decrease sulfur particle emissions and decrease the risk of childhood asthma, it comes with several costs.
The cleaner fuel adoptions will increase prices on goods for consumers and could detrimentally impact climate change.
Sulfur particles, while damaging to health, also reflect sunlight and help diminish the warming from carbon emissions.
“The use of cleaner ship fuels will increase the rate of global warming by about 3 percent,” said Mikhail Sofiev, who led the climate-related research. “This means more attention may be needed to reduce greenhouse gases across all sectors of the global economy.”
Shipping traffic is also expected to increase, and with it, pollution from marine shipping fuels which will continue to adversely impact health.
The study shows that even though a reduction in sulfur particles will have positive benefits on respiratory and cardiovascular health, other more stringent measures should be implemented in order to have a greater impact and still combat climate change,
“Our results show that these regulations are beneficial, but also that more air pollution health benefits remain possible with less-polluting ships,” said James Winebrake, an authority on the environmental impacts of transportation, including health risk assessments.
Image Credit: University of Delaware