The International Maritime Organization [IMO] has accepted a proposal by the United States, Canada and France to designate waters off the North American coasts as an Emission Control Area [ECA] – a move that will result in cleaner air for millions of Americans, significant human health benefits, and important environmental quality improvements.
Large ships that operate in ECAs must use much cleaner fuel and technology, leading to major air quality and public health benefits that extend hundreds of miles inland. The Emission Control Area was proposed in March 2009, approved by the IMO in July 2009, and will enter into force on August 1, 2012.
"This is a change that will benefit millions of people and set in motion new innovations for the shipping industry. We're gratified by the IMO's decision to help keep our air clean and communities healthy," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. "The sulfur particulate emissions and other harmful pollutants from large ships reach from our ports to communities hundreds of miles inland – bringing with them health, environmental and economic burdens," she said. "Cleaning up our shipping lanes will be a boon to communities across North America."
The large commercial ships that visit U.S. ports, such as oil tankers, cruise ships and container ships, currently use fuel with very high sulfur content, which, when burned, emits harmful levels of particulate matter and sulfur oxide – as well as nitrogen oxide -- that can travel over land hundreds of miles into the United States, causing severe respiratory symptoms in children and adults.
These ships, flying mostly the flags of other countries, make more than 57,000 calls at more than 100 U.S. ports each year. More than 30 of these ports are in metropolitan areas of nearly 127 million people that fail to meet federal air quality standards.
Enforcing the stringent Emission Control Area standards will reduce sulfur content in fuel by 98 percent – slashing sulfur oxide and particulate matter emissions by 98 percent and 85 percent, respectively. To achieve these reductions, tougher sulfur standards will phase in starting in 2012, ultimately reaching no more than 1,000 parts per million in 2015. Beginning in 2016, new ships must use advanced emission control technologies which will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from new ships by 80 percent below Tier 1 standards.
The United States is committed to working with its international partners to implement coordinated emissions control programs to achieve cleaner air for the U.S. and the world.