Ah…setting off across the open water on a luxury cruise ship. The vacation of a lifetime!
Walk the deck and feel the breeze against your face. Take a deep breath of pure sea air… no, wait, don’t do that. Actually, if you want to breathe at all, you might want to don a respirator.
It turns out that setting sail on a cruise ship can be even worse for your lungs than being stuck in traffic in a smog-smothered concrete jungle.
That’s what some British TV journalists uncovered in the course of doing an investigation of the cruise industry — with the help of one of the most sophisticated measuring devices available.
And it’s something you’re going to want to know about before you start eyeing those cruise brochures.
Pollution in paradise
It’s starting to sound like going on a cruise is one of the most dangerous things you can do!
Not too long ago, there were all those episodes of norovirus outbreaks that caused a whole lot of passengers to spend their vacations in the bathroom.
So, perhaps it shouldn’t come as any big surprise that ships, often described as “floating cities,” have air quality that’s just as polluted as any large metropolis.
Undercover investigators with a British television station analyzed the ambient air on the Oceana — a ship operated by P & O Cruises (which is owned by Carnival), the UK’s biggest such line — using a state-of-the-art, ultra-fine particle counter.
According to the researchers, the air on the deck of the Oceana, downwind of its funnels, contained a whopping 84,000 ultra-fine particles per cubic centimeter. To put that in perspective, that’s more than twice the measurements they obtained in central London!
But for anyone attempting to breathe directly in the vicinity of the funnels, they’d be exposed to readings that went up to a gigantic 226,000 particles.
And that kind of air pollution can be especially hazardous to the health of seniors.
A new study that analyzed 60 million Medicare beneficiaries published the New England Journal of Medicine found that their risk of death significantly increased depending on their exposure to polluted air.
And that’s even at levels well below federal air-quality standards.
In fact, the lead researcher of that study said there’s really “no safe level” for seniors to be exposed to when it comes to “fine particulate matter” (what was measured on the cruise ship).
So, just what is it that makes the atmosphere on these floating palaces so polluted?
Well, it seems that out in the open ocean, there’s no need to comply with emission standards required on land. Once you set sail in this sea of nonregulation, ships are able to burn a much cheaper type of heavy fuel oil, known as “residual fuel,” that contains high amounts of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, as well as other pollutants.
One expert estimates that in a single day, a cruise ship “emits as much particulate matter as a million cars.”
Of course, if you’re still longing for that cruise, you might be wondering if this applies to all ships, or if there are exceptions.
And the answer is — maybe.
The Oceana cruise line is saying that it plans to fit the ship with exhaust gas cleaning systems, which are said to have been installed on 60 other liners. The company says that will “significantly improve the quality of air emissions” and reduce soot and particulate matter by more than 80 percent.
So, you might want to check whether the ship you’re planning to set sail on has such a safeguard installed.
Or, maybe just spend your vacation on a nice, unpolluted beach!
“Air quality on cruise ship deck ‘worse than world’s most polluted cities’, investigation finds” Chloe Farand, July 3, 2017, The Independent, independent.co.uk