News ID: 265758
Published: 0927 GMT February 17, 2020

Shipping pollution regulations 'could harm food chain'

Shipping pollution regulations 'could harm food chain'

New shipping pollution regulations introduced earlier this year could harm humans by contaminating fish and crustaceans with toxins, according to an internal report compiled by the International Maritime Organization and obtained by the Guardian.

In the report the IMO, the United Nations agency responsible for regulating shipping, says that there is insufficient “toxicity data” to be able to assess the risk to humans caused by the increased use of exhaust gas cleaning systems, which are also known as “scrubbers”, reported.

These devices reduce the amount of pollution emitted into the air by ships, but the cheapest and most popular models dramatically increase the amount of pollutants pumped directly into the sea.

Shipping companies have spent more than $12 billion fitting thousands of scrubbers on vessels around the world in order to meet new air pollution standards that were introduced on 1 January 2020.

Some of the pollutants deemed most concerning by experts that are pumped into the sea by scrubbers are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been linked to skinlung, bladderliver and stomach cancers.

In its report, the IMO says “carrying out a preliminary risk assessment [on the PAH emissions from scrubbers] was not possible considering the available information” and warns that “secondary poisoning (via consumption of seafood) had been mentioned as a likely exposure route for humans”.

Critics say IMO member states should have conducted thorough risk assessments before deciding to allow the use of scrubbers under the new legislation.

Lucy Gilliam, a campaigner for the Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment, said the IMO should stop the use of scrubbers until it can answer key questions about how discharges may affect health.

“Ships should not be allowed to use scrubbers if the IMO has no idea what the consequences will be for human health and food chain contamination,” she said.

“The surge in scrubber use means that increasing amounts of PAHs will accumulate in sediment over time, and no one knows what the impact on human health will be.

“It is going to have an impact on the food chain and, as things stand, we have no reliable information about when safe threshold limits will be breached.”

Christopher Elliott, a professor at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, believes the effect of bioaccumulation of PAHs in the food chain is a worrying issue.

“Any increase in PAHs at the bottom of the food chain can have a negative impact on human health over the long term, damaging immune systems and potentially increasing susceptibility to cancer,” he said.

Shipping companies have repeatedly said that they have commissioned rigorous studies to test pollutants discharged by scrubbers.


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