Thousands of Ships Use 'Cheat Devices' to Dump Toxic Wastewater Into Sea and Bypass Emissions Standards
You might have known that cruise ships are some of the world's worst polluters. Now, there is more disturbing news from the shipping industry thanks to a bombshell investigation that found that global shipping companies have spent billions to equip their ships with "cheat devices" that get around new emissions standards by dumping pollution into the sea rather than the air. The British newspaper The Independent revealed the fraud in an exclusive story.
According to The Independent shipping companies have invested more than $12 billion on a contraption called an open-loop scrubber, which removes noxious sulfur fumes from the exhaust fumes of ships that run on heavy oil. Since the sulfur is not emitted into the air, the ships are in compliance with the International Maritime Organization's new emissions standards that are set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
The cheat happens when the sulfur is rerouted from the exhaust pipes and dumped into the sea around the ship, which increases the volume of pollutants dropped into the oceans and carbon dioxide emissions.
"Imagine how far $12bn could have gone if it was applied towards developing and deploying technologies for zero-emission vessels," said Bryan Comer, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a non-profit that gives scientific analysis to environmental regulators, to The Independent.
Ships that have installed the open-loop scrubbers include bulk carriers, container ships and oil tankers, which have the biggest engines and are some of the ocean's worst polluters, according to Ship Technology, a shipping industry trade-publication.
So far, 3,756 have had scrubbers installed, but only 23 of them, or 0.6 percent, have a closed-loop scrubber, which captures sulfur and stores it in tanks until it can be transferred to a safe disposal facility in port, according to DNV GL, the world's largest ship classification company, as The Independent reported.
The Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association estimated that 4,000 ships will be operating with scrubbers by January.
The byproduct from burning fuel is brutal. When a ship has an open-loop scrubber, it dumps nearly 45 tons of polluted washwater in to the sea for every ton of fuel it burns. The ICCT said the washwater that drops into the ocean is warm, acidic and contaminated with carcinogens and heavy metals, as The Independent reported. Heavy metal pollution has been linked to damage to the central nervous system in humans and animals. Some of the other chemicals in the contaminants have been connected to skin, lung, bladder, liver and stomach cancers.
The ICCT has estimated that cruise ships alone that are fitted with scrubbers will burn around 4 million tons of heavy fuel oil in 2020 and they will dump 180 million tons of contaminated water overboard.
"About half of the world's roughly 500 cruise ships have or will soon have scrubbers installed," said Comer to The Independent. "Cruise ships operate in some of the most beautiful and pristine areas on the planet, making this all the more concerning."
Increasing acidification is already devastating the world's coral reefs since it makes it harder for corals to build their skeletons, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Comer just touched on cruise ships and also noted that scrubbers force ships to burn about two percent more fuel, increasing their CO2 emissions.
The cumulative total from shipping as well will dramatically increase water pollution and will have a devastating impact on marine wildlife and water quality around ports.
"In the North Sea and some parts of the [English] Channel, the water quality has already been heavily degraded," said Lucy Gilliam, a campaigner for Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based NGO, to The Independent. "Wildlife in these areas is likely to be far more vulnerable to the effects of having ships discharging huge volumes of acidic, polluted, warm water from scrubbers."
In response to The Independent, the IMO said it had already "adopted strict criteria for discharge of washwater from exhaust gas cleaning systems." It added that it is "undertaking a review of the 2015 guidelines on exhaust gas cleaning systems. The guidelines include, among other things, washwater discharge standards."
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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