Scientists from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have released a report showing that residents of coastal cities, such as New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Los Angeles and Houston, are at risk to the dangers of the dirty smoke emitted from ships cruising at sea and generating electricity in port.
The report finds that on some days, the dirty smoke from ships accounts for nearly half of the fine, sulfur-rich particulate matter in the air known to be hazardous to human health.
Until this report was recently released, air quality experts have been unable to quantify the contribution of ship smoke to coastal city air pollution.
Ships that burn a cheaper, sulfur-rich fuel called “bunker oil” produce primary sulfate, or SO4, which is especially dangerous to people because of its fine microscopic particles that measure less than 1.5 microns or a millionth of a meter in size. These particles can travel extremely long distances because they stay in the atmosphere for longer periods and, unlike bigger dust grains and particles that are removed by the body when breathed, remain in the lungs.
Mark Thiemens, dean of the division of physical sciences and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD, told the Houston Business Journal, that ships remain unregulated when it comes to air pollution standards, and with global shipping expected to increase, this report should influence policy makers on making more informed decisions about improving the quality of air for coastal citizens.
While international rules may one day require ships to burn clean-burning fuels, and some states like California will quickly be requiring ships to switch to safer, more expensive fuels when nearing its coastal cities, many other cities remain unprotected by regulations
Citizens, in the meantime, should be aware that there are definite dangers to the sulfur-rich particulate matter that this report now shows to be found in increased quantities in coastal air. Chemicals and fine particles released by this matter go deep into the lungs and can cause irreparable damage.
There are air purifiers that are designed specifically to combat microscopic particles. Such a unit would need to combine a deep carbon filter, along with a HEPA filter that removes 99.97 percent of airborne dust and particles measuring 0.3 microns.
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