Medical Scientists Claim Sulfur Rules Not the Answer
Ship emissions adversely affect the operation of the lungs’ immune system, but sulfur regulations may not be the best solution, say a team of scientists from Germany’s Helmholtz Zentrum München and University of Rostock.
Last year, the scientists showed that exposure to particle emissions from heavy fuel oil and diesel fuel adversely affected human lung cells. Now the team led by Professor Ralf Zimmermann has found in further studies that macrophages are also influenced by the exhaust gases. Macrophages are known as scavenger cells of the immune system and respond more sensitively to particulate matter in the lungs than lung epithelial cells. They are the “first line of response” against foreign invaders such as germs or fine dust particles.
The researchers found that the ship emissions of heavy fuel oil and diesel fuel had different effects on triggering pro-inflammatory reactions. Fine particles from heavy fuel oil emissions have a stronger effect on the development of pro-inflammatory reactions than particles emitted from diesel ship engines, but the latter more strongly influence other fundamental biological processes such as DNA-, RNA- and protein-synthesis.
The scientists found that the emitted particles both from the heavy fuel oil and from the diesel exhaust had similarly high toxic effects on the macrophages. Surprisingly, though, the toxic effects leading to cell death were slightly lower in the heavy fuel oil emissions, although the concentrations of known toxic pollutants in the heavy oil emissions are much higher.
Zimmermann says: “Foregoing the ban of the heavy fuel oil use in coastal shipping, as is currently propagated and partially already implemented via the current fuel-sulfur content regulations, is therefore probably less beneficial than expected for protecting the health of people in coastal areas.
“The simplest and safest way to mitigate these adverse health effects from ship engine emissions would be to introduce efficient particle reducing measures such as exhaust gas scrubbers and particle filters. These would precipitate the harmful fine particles from the emissions and thus reduce the adverse health effects, irrespective of the fuel used.
“Since such measures are generally not implemented on a voluntary basis, in our view there is an urgent need for action by policy makers in government and by national and European regulatory authorities.”