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”.

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 $12bn (£9.2bn) 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 skin, lung, bladder, liver and stomachcancers.

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.


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