Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A single cruise ship can emit as much particulate matter pollution as a million cars

Some cruise ships are more polluting than entire cities. An undercover investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches revealed that one of Britain’s biggest cruise ships emits as many “ultra-fine particle” pollution as a million vehicles in a day. Thirty such cruise ships emit as much particle pollution as all cars in the United Kingdom, the network reported.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Dispatches investigators used a P-Trak ultrafine particle counter to measure the levels of the ultra-fine particulates on board the P&O Cruises’ ship Oceana, which is capable of carrying up to 2,000 passengers.

A lot of people are enchanted by the prospect of leaving their noisy and polluted city homes for a couple of relaxing weeks in the open sea. But although they might be in the middle of nowhere, cruise passengers are exposed to more pollution than in their crowded cities.

When the particle counter was placed on the deck downwind of the ship’s funnels, it measured 84,000 ultrafine particles per cubic centimeter — that’s more than double the levels measured in London’s Piccadilly Circus by the same crew. Right next to the ship’s funnels, though, the measurement jumped to 144,000, peaking at 226,000.

“These are levels that you would expect to see in the most polluted cities in the world like Shanghai, Delhi and so on,” Dr. Matthew Loxham, an expert in air pollution toxicology a the University of Southampton, told Dispatches. 

And because a cruise ships’ engines have to operate 24/7, they contribute significantly to coastline pollution and affect the health of people living in port towns.

“We can smell, see and taste it. These ships are like blocks of flats. Sometimes there are five or more in the docks at the same time. The wind blows their pollution directly into the city and as far we can tell, there is no monitoring of their pollution. We are pushing for them to use shore power but they have resisted,”  Colin MacQueen, who lives around 400 yards from the docks and is a member of new environment group Southampton Clean Air, told The Guardian.

“The liners pollute, but the road traffic that they and the cargo ships generate is also huge,” he adds.

Ultra-fine particulate matter found in soot and smoke is composed of nanoscale particles — typically with a diameter less than a thousandth of the width of a human hair. These particles are so tiny that they easily cross the lung barrier into the body’s circulatory system. Data from hundreds of epidemiology studies have established a relationship between exposure to particulate matter (PM) air pollution and cardiorespiratory morbidity and mortality. Additionally, researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium found that fetuses and newborn babies whose mothers live close to a main road are had 14% shorter telomeres than those who lived further than 250 meters away. Telomere length is a marker of aging and cellular death.

In 2018, about 27.2 million passengers set sail on cruises. Besides ultrafine particle pollution and greenhouse gas emissions generated from burning low-grade fuel, cruise ships can threaten marine wildlife and ecosystems. While cruise ships are required to treat their sewage waste, Princess Cruises was fined $40 million for polluting the ocean by dumping 4,227 gallons of “oily waste” off the coast of Britain.

So, if you’re planning a vacation somewhere with fresh air, a cruise ship might not be your ideal destination.

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