How Do Ports Affect Air Quality? Air Quality Monitoring for Ports

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Ports and shipping activities are essential for global economic activity. Despite this important place they hold in our international economy, ports and the shipping industry create harmful air pollutants and particles which negatively impact the surrounding air, human and marine health, and the environment.  

Ports and the shipping industry both impact short- and long-term air quality; however, both players can take action to improve their harmful emissions near coastal towns and cities. This article will discuss how ports and the shipping industry can reduce pollution levels using air quality monitoring along with the benefits that monitoring can bring.  

How Do Ports Affect the Local Air?

Ports, a major global supply chain node and essential to the economy, receive massive amounts of goods each year via large vessel cargo shipments. Each year international trade, globalization, and business growth increase, which leads to more ships, the construction of mega-ships, more oil and fuel used, and very congested ports.  

Port cities equally experience an increase in inland traffic as vessels bring in more cargo shipments. For instance, the Port of Los Angeles in California processes up to 60,000 trucks per day. Studies show the emissions released from inland traffic also severely affect environmental, marine, and human health.  

Cruises also contribute to pollution and harmful particles. In Marseille and Naples, two huge cruise ship destinations, air quality worsens during peak travel time, negatively affecting the surrounding communities. Unfortunately, studies show this maritime traffic causes about 50,000 premature deaths in Europe each year due to increased air pollution.  

In China, the Port of Shanghai even has its own cruise port. Therefore, during peak seasons, ship emissions are bound to increase as well as toxins such as nitrogen oxide (NO˅X) and sulfur in the surrounding communities. 

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How Do Ships Affect the Local Air?

Important to recognize, ports alone do not cause all air pollution, as it is the activities that surround them which are the leading cause: including shipping, busy roads, and industrial activity.  

Regarding shipping, vessels use fuel which is different than the petrol fuel used for inland vehicles. Inland vehicles cause pollution, but their fuel is cleaner.  

For example, ship use: 

  • Heavy fuel, which causes respiratory problems for people, acid rain, and damages the environment and wildlife. This is the most used fuel. The IMO just imposed new regulations in January 2021 to significantly reduce heavy fuel consumption. See more below.  
  • Diesel, which also causes respiratory problems and pollutes ambient air quality. 
  • Marine Gas Oil, an alternative to heavy fuel which is fuel lower in sulfur content.  

Ships, therefore, emit toxic pollutants such as Sulfur Dioxide (SO˅2) from heavy shipping fuel, nitrogen dioxide (NO˅X) from ship exhaust, and particulate matter (PM) emitted from diesel. All three leading to diseases like cancer, strokes, and problems with the heart. 

At Port of Shanghai, Sulfur dioxide and particulate matter coincide most with ship emissions. The presence of NO˅X also depletes the port’s oxygen levels.  

These emissions cause a major problem for the air quality of ports when intense port congestion is at play. Intense port congestion means that vessels can wait at anchor outside of a port for up to two weeks before berthing. The longer vessels wait at anchor, the more fuel emissions and pollutants they release. Port cities then become even more polluted. Port and shipping pollution are thus very intertwined. Even coastal cities not necessarily close to a port are impacted by toxic ship emissions.  

International shipping creates up to 4% of the world’s emitted CO˅2 levels and consumes 3% of total world energy consumption. Shipping also causes noise pollution which affects the quality of human and marine life.  

Overall, ports and shipping operations cause harmful pollution and pollutants which lead to major human and marine health problems. 

The question now is: how can ports and the shipping industry reduce their environmental impact? Our answer: Air Quality Monitoring Systems.  

How Are Ports Reducing Pollution Levels?

Air pollution

Air Quality Monitoring Systems 

Ports are adopting air quality monitoring systems to have real-time information about the current air quality of their port and surrounding area. With environmental monitoring systems, port authorities can monitor air quality impacts in real-time, in turn helping the surrounding community. To improve air quality, ports need to know the cause of pollution.  

Once the source is identified, ports can then develop a strategy to reduce pollution. For example, Port of Los Angeles uses four air monitoring stations that gives them real-time measurements of key pollutants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases reports that show air pollution has been immensely reduced since 2005. 

Digitalization Port Operations 

Ports are becoming more digitalized to cope with increased activity and environmental monitoring. For example, ports are adopting Smart Port strategies which allow them to be greener ports.  

Technology adoption makes ports more efficient, thus reducing their impact on air quality. If ports are overcrowded and congested, then their ambient air will be polluted. The more ships there are at port or waiting to dock, the higher percentage of pollutants there will be in the air because of shipping fuel. However, if a port is using digital technologies to increase efficiency and vessel turnaround time, this lowers air pollution levels and makes the port more economically competitive.  

Smart Port strategies also include environmental monitoring systems for air, water, and noise 

How Are Ships Reducing Pollution Levels?

Greener vessels  

Many ships are very old, and it is not until more recently that we are seeing the adoption of greener vessels. Greener vessels normally have adopted digital strategies and use alternative options for fuel consumption. Digital strategies include implementing digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, monitoring sensors, and AIS sensors which allow the industry to have access to real-time data.  

Real-time data then allows maritime actors to understand how their activities are affecting the environment and what they could be doing to improve environmental regulation compliance. 

Environmental Regulations  

The main source of SO˅2 in ports comes from vessel activities. However, the relationship between the quantity of ships and pollution is not linear. Ships affect the air quality of ports and coastal communities depending on varied factors not just the quantity of ships. Ship pollution depends on environmental parameters, like the wind, temperature, and rain, and the type of ship. For example, at times the air quality is more affected 10km out at sea than inland. At other times, if there are strong winds, then 20 – 30 percent of particulate matter (PM 2.5) inland can be from air pollution generated by ships.   

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) therefore just updated the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships stating that from January 1, 2020, heavy fuel used in vessels would not be permitted to have more than a 0.5% Sulphur content. This is known as the Global Sulphur Cap to reduce sulfur dioxide and particulate matter emissions.  

These emissions are very regulated since they emit particulate matter which is very toxic to human health, and they cause acid rain which is detrimental to the environment.  

Monitoring air quality helps shipping companies to comply with these new regulations.  

Why Monitor Air Quality for Ports and Shipping Activities?

Air quality monitoring provides many benefits to ports and shipping.  

Air quality standards are a major priority for European and American ports. With standards becoming stricter, it is important that ports and shipping companies know their air quality impact in real-time.  Ports have a key role for the economy, so it is important that they monitor air quality to ensure they comply with regulations for continued activity by knowing the exact source of pollutants and how to reduce them before it becomes a problem.  

When ports care about how their activities are impacting air quality, they gain more community support for their activities. This improves the image of the port authorities. For example, when an air-polluting event occurs, port authorities are notified in real-time and can handle this event quickly.  

Your environmental monitoring at your fingertips!

Optimize your environmental monitoring, become smarter and more sustainable with a unified system that gathers all your environmental sensors & data in one place.

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How Can Air Pollution Be Monitored for Ports and Shipping?

Air quality and air pollution monitoring are more advanced than ever before. Air quality was first recognized in 1958 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The effect of individual toxins was not yet known. Today, not only do we know more about air pollution and its harm, but we also know how to precisely track it and measure the effects in real-time on human health and the environment.   

Now, air quality monitoring systems connect to sensors to measure air quality in real-time.  

By implementing an air quality monitoring system, ports can see real-time key indicators which give them situational awareness of all activities. Ports can see which activities could increase air pollution during which time periods, allowing them to use concrete data to make key decisions and be more aware of which activities are causing harm.  

This is exactly how the Sinay Air Module monitors air quality and air pollution.  

The Sinay Air Module

To increase efficiency and comply with environmental regulations, ports need an air quality monitoring system that displays key indicators and thresholds in real-time. That is why Sinay created the Air Module in the Sinay Hub.  

The Sinay Hub is a one-of-a-kind dashboard that provides a 360-degree overview of all maritime activities. The Air Module is a unique software in the hub that monitors air quality in real-time. With the Sinay Air Module, you can create and configure your air quality monitoring projects in complete autonomy. You can monitor key air quality indicators (SO˅2, NO˅2, PM1, PM2.5, and PM10) using sensors, be alerted in real-time when you exceed certain thresholds, and generate automatic monitoring reports. Our Air Module connects to sensors that measure the pollutants you want to monitor in real-time. You can easily browse through the history of measurements to identify trends and patterns. 

Frequently Asked Questions About: PORTS AND AIR QUALITY

Ports themselves do not cause pollution; it is the activities that surround them. For example, emissions from shipping, port congestion, industrial activities, oil and gas, construction, etc.

Port activities can be harmful to the environment if they are unregulated. Smart Port solutions also minimize environmental impacts. Further info: What is a Smart Port

Maritime transportation, like large shipping vessels, affects air quality with harmful heavy gas emissions. These emissions can be particularly harmful when ships dock at berth, releasing emissions next to large cities. 

Ships pollute the air by releasing emissions. These emissions can contain particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. 

Yes – one large vessel can produce as much pollution as 50 million cars. Vessels also use fuel which is different, and more harmful, than petrol used for cars. 

Cruise ships use diesel fuel (which emits nitrogen oxide linked to lung cancer), and their fuel is more harmful than petrol used for cars. They emit waste and sewage. 

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