The IMO’s 2020 0.5% fuel sulphur cap will result in a 3.6% reduction in childhood asthma worldwide, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
Around 14 million annual cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to ship pollution, as well as 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. This amounts to roughly 8% of the global health burden caused by air pollution.
A team of researchers from the University of Delaware, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology and Energy and Environmental Research Associates initially used a model of ship traffic to determine where ship activity was creating emissions.
They then utilised another high-resolution model to see how ship emissions mix and chemically transform in the atmosphere, how they disperse and how they affect air quality in populated areas.
According to the study, cutting fuel sulphur content will reduce ship-related childhood asthma cases by half and prevent about one-third of annual lung and cardiovascular deaths from ship emissions.
"Cleaner ship fuels help people who don't have an economic role in the pollution they are suffering, some in places that aren't engaged in trade at all, as well as communities located along major shipping lanes," says the study’s lead author, James Corbett of the University of Delaware.
Despite the upcoming regulations, the researchers found that low-sulphur marine fuels will still account for 250,000 deaths and 6.4 million childhood asthma cases annually. They have called for more stringent standards beyond 2020 to provide additional health benefits.