Pollution closer to home merits attention

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Talk is of the IMO 2020 sulphur cap and the environmental warriors scour the maritime world looking for new causes from beached ships to noise pollution in the channels. But closer to home there is the constant concern about pollution and environmental issues in ports.

We may be seeing in 2019 the last of the belching smoke stacks sending black clouds of toxic waste across the skyline and yet the publication of the Clean Air Strategy by the UK Government on 14 January 2019 marked another step in this battle.

Major English ports are being requested to devise and develop their own air quality strategies before the end of the year. This is another strand in the clean air policy drive that must surely be welcomed by everyone in the maritime sector. Yet what seems to be happening is that some ports across the globe, keen to get involved with clean air policies and the resultant marketing kudos it can bring, have, it is claimed, not been so honest in their reporting. After all, when cargo loads increase it does seem strange for some ports to claim substantial emission reductions. It may be true for some but unlikely at this stage of the drive for better air quality.

By their very nature ports are centres where road, rail and ship transport comes together. Machinery is not all electric; cranes, hoists, gantries and anything else mechanical within the port infrastructure can give off emissions considered unacceptable. Rail freight has reduced the reliance on road traffic with its toxic emissions but freight trucks and motorised vehicles are still prevalent in every global port. Nobody is taking an eye off the ball but the emphasis is on the current pollution targets.

One recently reported bit of good news concerns the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in the USA. They have been cited by environmental authorities as some of the worst sources for air pollution. Now clean technology in the form of prototype trucks that will rely on hydrogen fuel cells could be seen in tests. Along with the increasing use of electric vehicles at ports, maybe the tide has turned.