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Marine Transportation, Air Quality and Human Health


Most air pollution from port activities is associated with the operation of diesel engines used to power ships, cargo-handling equipment, drayage trucks, and locomotives. Large diesel engines operate using petroleum-based fuels ranging from high-sulfur residual fuels to lighter distillate fuels. Collectively, port diesel engines emit significant amounts of SOx, NOx, diesel PM, and regulated hazardous air pollutants. The combination of fine particulates and hazardous air pollutants can have significant impacts on human health, ranging from respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, and lung cancer to cardiovascular disease and premature death. Emissions of SOx and NOx also have deleterious effects on air quality and the environment.

The health effects associated with diesel combustion can also be prevalent within low-income environmental justice communities located adjacent to ports and railyards. For example, asthma rates for children living in communities adjacent to the Port of Long Beach are almost twice that of the rest of the country. Many of these communities have non-governmental groups that monitor local health impacts, advocate for programs to reduce risk associated with port-related emissions, and pursue legal actions on behalf of the community.

As a starting point, port emission inventories can be used to quantify the emission sources which can be applied to air quality models to determine location and concentration of pollutants as they migrate away from the port. These data can be used to quantify ambient concentrations for which identified communities are exposed to; paying particular attention to schools, hospitals and nursing homes/assisted living facilities. This approach will allow for the identification of emission sources that have the greatest impact on human health,

Programs to reduce emissions and protect human health are often important elements of ports’ environmental programs and demonstrate a port’s commitment to the surrounding communities. These initiatives can include:

• Use of shore power to reduce hoteling emissions.

• Enforcement of reduced speed zones to reduce vessel emissions while approaching and leaving the port.

• Conversion of drayage trucks, yard locomotives, and cargo-handling equipment to alternative fuels or electrification.


Development of a software tool that provides important and necessary information to ports looking to meet environmental regulations or to reduce pollution from port operations. This tool would be many-faceted, but would include: (1) a database of technologies used for emissions reductions across all port sources – the database will include both technical information, environmental control estimates, and cost data; (2) case study information so that ports can identify other ports that have implemented technical and policy strategies for emissions reduction; (3) local monitoring data if available so ports can see how their actions affect the ambient environment; (4) a list of policy strategies and regulatory mechanisms that may be used by a port to reduce emissions from operations. The software can be updated regularly so that the information contained in the software will always be current and state of the art. In addition, the hope is that this software will help create a community of port operators who begin to share information related to emissions reduction in a “SmartPorts” network.


Better understanding of port-related emissions, their sources, and potential health effects can provide port authorities, policy makers, and regulatory agencies with tools for making informed policies that effectively reduce risk to exposed communities.

Related Research:

The WHO has implemented a health effects study of transport-related air pollution as has ports such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Port of Oakland, Elizabeth Port Authority and state agencies such as the California Air Resources Board and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to better understand the impact their operations have on local health indicators.


The following tasks are not comprehensive. They are intended as a guide to what might be necessary to successfully complete the research:

Phase 1

  • Compile and review available port health effects studies, noting pollutant of interest and relative significance of the monitored health impact

  • Develop a pollutant ranking system based on EPA toxicity and identified health impacts.

  • Provide a summary of Phase 1 activities, including compiled port health effects studies, the development of the pollutant ranking system and an explanation of how the pollutant rankings were incorporated into the project database to prioritize recommended strategies.

Phase 2

  • Compile and review available port mitigation studies for pollutants that have a direct or indirect impact on human health.Compiled should include, but not be limited to:

    *   Strategy name
    *   Description of

    the strategy

            *   Date program was


            *   Targeted


            *   Emission/risk


            *   Capital and

    Operating cost

            *   Other barriers to


  • Develop a searchable database to store and retrieve the compiled mitigation data

  • Link the pollutant ranking developed in Phase 1 to the mitigations strategies compiled in Phase 2.

  • Provide a summary of Phase 1 activities, including compiled data and data structure of the port mitigation database.

Phase 3

  • Building the network of users to allow people to share ideas and best practices.

  • Prepare implementation manual and PowerPoint presentation for dissemination to potential users

  • Evaluate interest in building a software tool that port operators could use to model what the local health impacts would be for changes in port/shipping operations.


It is unlikely that all relevant studies will be compiled for any singular project, but building the dataset around a network of stakeholders may represent a useful starting point that others can contribute to expanding the value of proposed system to all.


Agencies such as MARAD and the EPA may find this a compliment to their programs that address port or environmental justice community health impacts and could lead the implementation of this project in conjunction with TRB. AASHTO, and trade organizations such as American Association of Port Authorities could also play an important role in disseminating this tool.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:Medium
RNS Developer:Richard Billings, James Winebrake, and Edward Carr
Source Info:Academic and government health effects studies and control technology databases. The private sector may also be interested in providing data on current and future control options.
Date Posted:01/02/2018
Date Modified:01/22/2018
Index Terms:Water transportation, Air quality, Public health, Pollutants, Ports, Environmental impacts,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation

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