Report blames US Environmental Protection Agency for shock ship pollution figures

A report released by the US environmental organisation, Bluewater Network, on 17 July has blamed large ships and the ‘lack of emissions control regulations by the US EPA and international regulatory agencies’ for ‘far more significant’ levels of pollution than had previously been estimated.


It states that 14% of the world’s nitrogen emissions and 16% of its sulphur emissions, blamed for oxides creating both global warming and health problems, come from large ships, especially the largest cargo carriers, or Category 3 vessels. This method of transport is the third biggest producer of asthma-causing particulate matter.

The vessels are fuelled by bunker oil, ‘the world’s dirtiest’, containing ‘high concentrations of toxic fuel compounds.’ The report compares marine fuel, with a sulphur content ranging from 5,000 parts per million (ppm) to over 50,000, with road vehicles, whose sulphur content will soon be 15ppm.

Studies by Carnegie Mellon University which discovered that NOx and SOx emissions along the heaviest ocean trade routes – mainly in the North Pacific and North Atlantic, were equivalent to the world’s largest trading nations are mentioned as proof of the harm caused. More than 30% of California’s SOx emissions are attributed purely to ship emissions.

“Nitrogen oxide levels are a lot higher than what anyone expected over the oceans,” according to Sypros Panis, a chemical engineer at Carnegie Mellon. The report says that global emissions of NOx are equal to 42% of all US emissions of the gas.

Bluewater Network warns that if action is not taken, marine emissions, whose polluting effects can be felt up to 750 miles inland, will increase with trade between two and threefold in the next twenty years.

As a result Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund has filed a law suit against the US EPA on behalf of Bluewater Network to ‘protect the US from damaging environmental consequences.’

Bluewater Network is calling on the US Environmental Protection Agency to apply the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to limit emissions, which it says has been violated. It says that a 90-95% decrease in NOx emissions ‘appears well within reach’, and that sulphur limits ‘should be established to meet similar levels.’ The organisation also states that EPA was wrong to delegate its authority for regulating large vessel emissions to the International Maritime Organization which it describes as ‘subject to the whims of flag-of-convenience nations, many of which have shown utter disregard for appropriate environmental protection efforts.’

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