Why ports are a health concern

November 22, 2008 

Poisonous fumes, as well as soot, from ships and trucks can have deadly effects on the people who live and work near ports.

TRUCKS AND DIESEL. Diesel used by trucks is polluting enough that the federal government is pushing for fuel with a lower sulfur content, not just at ports, although ports are a major concern.

SHIPS AND BUNKER FUEL. The biggest issue with oceangoing container ships is bunker fuel. A tar-like sludge left over from the oil-refining process, the fuel is considered 1,000 times more dirty than the diesel used by most trucks. An international effort is under way to reduce its use, perhaps by making ships switch to a less-polluting fuel as they approach a port.

HEALTH CONCERNS. Among the array of health issues linked to pollution from ports:

• Diesel pollution is linked to thousands of premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, the federal government says.

• Microscopic particles from trucks and ships not only lodge in the lungs and aggravate asthma but, in adults, can penetrate the bloodstream and cause heart attacks.

• Shipping-related soot pollution causes about 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths worldwide each year, according to research published last year in Environmental Science and Technology.

• For more than a decade, epidemiological studies have shown higher death rates in communities exposed to elevated levels of fine particulate matter, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. A recent women’s health study reinforced that, the Journal reported.

• In addition to soot, smog, formed by nitrogen oxides and other pollutants from port traffic, also can worsen asthma, the leading cause of childhood hospitalizations. Nine percent of S.C. children have asthma, compared with 8 percent nationally.

— Sammy Fretwell

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service