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Toxic fumes from ships linked to thousands of UK deaths

Toxic fumes from ships linked to thousands of UK deaths
Josh Gabbatiss 11 March 2019

Pollution from ships has been linked with heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer ( Getty/iStock )
Study shows more than 3,000 early mortalities linked to toxic fumes from ships around British coast

The UK is one of the most vulnerable nations to the toxic fumes spewed out by ships, according to a new study.

Analysis by transport experts reveals more than 3,000 British deaths each year can be attributed to shipping emissions.

Pollution from boats is linked to early deaths as the toxic gases and particles in fumes trigger health problems including asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Despite efforts to clean up the sector, ships still rely on the filthiest fuels for power, resulting in huge volumes of emissions being pumped into the air around port cities.

Using data from 2015, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) team showed Britain ranked fourth for the total number of people dying prematurely due to shipping fumes, just behind China, Japan and India.

Dr Matt Loxham, a toxicologist at the University of Southampton, noted that besides gases like SOx ships also produce “more than their fair share” of ultrafine particles, which can penetrate deep into human tissue.

“These very small particles contribute little to the mass [of pollution] but are thought to be associated with health effects in ways we haven’t quite got a handle on yet,” he said.

The ICCT suggested the UK could seek to establish a new control zone to curb pollution, as European nations are currently trying to do in the Mediterranean.

But while national governments can implement policies to cut pollution from cars, shipping is largely in the hands of the International Maritime Organisation – a UN agency based in London.

“Even if you have very progressive stances from an individual government, it still needs to get into the IMO and be negotiated there,” said Dr Rutherford.

“There is a broader need to reform the IMO and get it moving in the right direction.”

A spokesperson from the IMO said new rules coming into force from 2020 will limit SOx even outside protected zones, which they predict will prevent more than half a million premature deaths around the world.

However, these regulations will still not be as tight as those currently in place in the North Sea, with sulphur in fuel oil cut to just 0.5 per cent instead of the 0.1 per cent allowed in such zones.