Importing clean air at a port near you



Diane Bailey, senior scientist, Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), San Francisco, California, United States of America


Looking at port-side communities around the globe, which came first, the community or the port? The answer is that they likely grew together, but the more important question is what can be done to alleviate the air pollution that is growing with the rise of trade and smothering these portside communities? Fortunately much can be done to mitigate the severe health, air pollution and quality of life impacts of industrial shipping. Many major ports worldwide have led the way with technology innovations and investments in cleaner equipment.

The impacts of pollution

Each container full of goods going in and out of a port has a plume of sooty pollution associated with it, from all the trucks, trains, ships and cranes that handled it. In the US alone, more than 13 million people – 3.5 million of whom are children – live near major marine ports or rail yards, in close proximity to all those polluting containers.Health impacts related to dieselpowered freight, mainly due to very fine particulate matter or soot, include increased rates of respiratory illness and asthma, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits, and premature death.ii Pollution from transportation sources has also been linked to birth defects, low birth weights, and premature births.iii Further, emerging studies have shown a potential connection between exposure to fine PM and diabetes, as well as cognitive decline and other serious impacts to the brain.iv

When we wrote about pollution from the shipping industry in our Harbouring Pollution series of reports in 2004, very little had been done at American ports to address air pollution and health impacts from ocean-going vessels, cargo equipment, locomotives and trucks moving our goods.By 2006 however, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach had adopted an expansive Clean Air Action Plan and the California Air Resources Board adopted a state-wide Goods Movement Emissions Reduction Our new Clean Cargo toolkits detail these plans and other clean up measures that have been put in place at ports and other elements of the freight system.vii

What does it take to become a clean port?

Marine ports need to demonstrate a real commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, soot, smog-forming and toxic pollution, as well as minimising impacts on nearby residents. See the box on the following page for a summary of clean port measures. All of the measures that we recommend are already in place at one or more major ports or freight facilities, some are mandated by regulation or soon to be, while others are embraced by green leaders.

Who is setting an example in green shipping?

While the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Rotterdam have all made significant strides in reducing pollution and are known the world over as leaders, some impacts still remain. Other lesser known efforts also deserve attention. The Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, New York/New Jersey, Houston, Charleston, and Seattle all have clean truck programmes.viii The Port of Los Angeles has been operating and testing 18 zeroemission plug-in and fuel-cell trucks.

Maersk, the largest shipping line, switched from dirty bunker fuel to cleaner low-sulphur marine fuel along selected routes in 2006.ix The company has also significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions by investing in larger ships that can carry more containers and operate more efficiently at lower speeds. These ships also include improved engine and hull designs and waste-heat recovery to boost environmental performance.

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