Protecting American Health from Global Shipping Pollution: New Report

March 30, 2009



Coalition Contacts:
Heather Grzelka, Communications, American Lung Association, 202-715-3450,
Paul Billings, Vice President, American Lung Association, 202-785-3355 x 3988,
Sean Crowley, Marketing-Communications Director, EDF, 202-550-6524,
Vickie Patton, Deputy General Counsel, EDF, 720-837-6239,
Bill Becker, Executive Director, National Association of Clean Air Agencies, 301-806-6111 (c),
Dennis McLerran, Executive Director, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, 206-689-4004,
Kimberley Cline, Communications Specialist, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, 206-689-4070,

(Washington, D.C. – March 30, 2009) A new report released today finds that more than 87 million Americans live in port areas that are not meeting federal health-based air quality standards. The report, Protecting American Health from Global Shipping Pollution, documents the public health effects associated with air pollution from global shipping, including container ships, tankers, cruise ships, and bulk carriers. The report, co-authored by the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, National Association of Clean Air Agencies, and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, is available online at:

The coalition strongly encourages and supports action by the U.S. government that to apply to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the establishment of an Emission Control Area: an area where rigorous pollution limits apply to global shipping activity. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will announce the U.S. application to the IMO during a noon news conference today in Port Newark, NJ. Foreign-flagged vessels make 90 percent of the ship calls on U.S. ports. Leading researchers estimate that shipping pollution is associated with 60,000 global deaths annually. EPA’s Analysis shows that the establishment of an Emission Control Area could dramatically reduce lethal particulate pollution in U.S. coastal communities.


Statement of Captain Charles D. Connor, U.S. Navy (Ret.), American Lung Association President and CEO: “In my career as a U.S. Navy Captain, I saw firsthand the staggering amounts of pollution that cruise ships, container ships, tankers and other ocean-going vessels released into the atmosphere. These ships dock at more than 100 ports along our coastline and along navigable waterways far inland. Their smog-and soot-forming emissions threaten the health of those living far from our nation’s maritime ports.”

Statement of Vickie Patton, Deputy General Counsel, Environmental Defense Fund: “The dangerous air pollution from these floating smokestacks is a serious health threat to tens of millions of Americans who live and work in port cities. Cleaning up these big ships will chart a course for cleaner air and healthier communities.”

Statement of Bill Becker, Executive Director, National Association of Clean Air Agencies: “These big ships are big emitters. We need all hands on deck to help state and local air pollution control officials reduce the pollution from global shipping and restore healthier air in our communities.”

Statement of Dennis McLerran, Executive Director, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency: “Approval of an Emission Control Area for the coasts of North America at the earliest possible date will save hundreds of lives across the U.S. and Canada. In the Pacific Northwest, ocean-going ships travel hundreds of miles inland before reaching the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma and we will see significant air quality improvements in a wide area of Washington State when an ECA is put in place.”


An Emission Control Area, or ECA, would provide the strongest clean air standards available under international law. It would dramatically improve fuel quality and reduce smog-forming oxides of nitrogen for all ocean-going ships in the exclusive economic zone of the United States, an area that typically extends about 200 nautical miles from the coast. To secure these vital protections, the U.S. government must submit an application to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) demonstrating the need to prevent, reduce and control global shipping emissions. The IMO would review the application at its July meeting and take final action on the U.S. request in 2010.

Container ships, tankers and the other large sea-going vessels that dock at more than 100 U.S. port cities burn low grade “residual fuel” or “bunker fuel” that is a major source of air pollution, including the formation of particulate pollution. Residual fuel contains sulfur levels 1,800 times greater than U.S. law allows for other diesel engines. A recent study by two leading researchers on shipping pollution, Corbett and Winebrake, shows shipping-related particulate pollution contributes to approximately 60,000 global deaths annually, with impacts concentrated in coastal regions on major trade routes.

In October 2008, the IMO, with active participation from the U.S. government, adopted new baseline global emission standards for ocean-going ships and their fuel. The IMO also provided for more rigorous, heightened protections in designated Emission Control Areas (ECAs). The fuel used to power these ships currently contains about 27,000 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur. In an ECA, the sulfur in fuel will be limited to 10,000 ppm in August 2012 and then to 1,000 ppm in January 2015.

Within an ECA, ships must also achieve an 80 percent reduction in smog-forming oxides of nitrogen starting in 2016.

EPA air quality analyses shows the pollution reductions required in an ECA will reduce exposure to lethal particulate pollution for millions of Americans.

Ocean-going ships contribute to unhealthy air quality across the United States. According to EPA, in 2001, these large ships emitted approximately:

• 745,000 tons of smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx), a precursor to ground-level ozone. Ozone can aggravate asthma and decrease lung function in addition to other health effects;

• 450,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a key contributor to acid rain that can also be transformed into lethal particulate matter; and

• 54,000 tons of fine particulates (PM2.5), microscopic sized particles, which can be breathed deep into the lungs, bypassing the body’s defense systems. They are implicated in thousands of premature deaths each year. Other harmful health effects also result from breathing fine particulates.

Ocean-going ships are also responsible for about 3 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas pollution.


American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. The American Lung Association is “Fighting for Air” through research, education and advocacy. For more information, visit

Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit

National Association of Clean Air Agencies comprises the air pollution control agencies in 53 states and territories and over 165 metropolitan areas across the country. NACAA’s members have primary responsibility for ensuring that everyone in our nation breathes clean, healthful air. For more information, visit

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is the regional air quality agency for the area including the major container ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. We work together the clean the air we breathe and protect our climate through education, incentives and enforcement. For more information, visit