The University of Rostock and the German environmental research centre Helmholzzentrum Munich have conducted a study to explain how shipping exhaust emissions can cause serious diseases, that cost European health services €58 billion annually.
The study confirms that Particulate Matter (PM) from both heavy fuel oil and diesel fuel shipping emissions show strong biological effects on human lung cells.
Lief Miller, the CEO of conservation NGO NABU, commented:
“The results are frightening and confirm our worst fears. Emissions from ships cause serious lung and heart diseases.”
For the researchers, legislation enforcing particle filtration and PM limits in shipping is the “next logical target for improving air quality worldwide, particularly in coastal regions and harbour cities”.
Dietmar Oeliger, NABU’s transport expert, said, “We really underline the recommendation of the scientists to urgently switch to low sulphur fuels together with effective emission abatement techniques.”
The most effective method of cleaning up emissions from shipping is to combine PM filters with low-sulphur fuels, a measure that has long been in place on the roads. Other options include converting ships’ engines to run on gas or retrofitting them with exhaust gas cleaning systems known as “scrubbers”.
The study : Methods, Results and Conclusions
Ship engine emissions are important with regard to lung and cardiovascular diseases especially in coastal regions worldwide. Known cellular responses to combustion particles include oxidative stress and inflammatory signalling. To provide a molecular link between the chemical and physical characteristics of ship emission particles and the cellular responses they elicit and to identify potentially harmful fractions in shipping emission aerosols.
Through an air-liquid interface exposure system, the researchers exposed human lung cells under realistic in vitro conditions to exhaust fumes from a ship engine running on either common heavy fuel oil (HFO) or cleaner-burning diesel fuel (DF). Advanced chemical analyses of the exhaust aerosols were combined with transcriptional, proteomic and metabolomic profiling including isotope labelling methods to characterize the lung cell responses.
The HFO emissions contained high concentrations of toxic compounds such as metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and were higher in particle mass. These compounds were lower in DF emissions, which in turn had higher concentrations of elemental carbon (“soot”). Common cellular reactions included cellular stress responses and endocytosis. Reactions to HFO emissions were dominated by oxidative stress and inflammatory responses, whereas DF emissions induced generally a broader biological response than HFO emissions and affected essential cellular pathways such as energy metabolism, protein synthesis, and chromatin modification.
Study concludes that despite a lower content of known toxic compounds, combustion particles from the clean shipping fuel DF influenced several essential pathways of lung cell metabolism more strongly than particles from the unrefined fuel HFO. This might be attributable to a higher soot content in DF. Thus the role of diesel soot, which is a known carcinogen in acute air pollution-induced health effects should be further investigated. For the use of HFO and DF, the researchers recommend a reduction of carbonaceous soot in the ship emissions by implementation of filtration devices.
Read the analysis by clicking on the study below
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