Air Pollution Control And Environmental Management at Ports

Ports are the gateways for global trade and are critical to a nation’s economy. As well as being hubs for economic activity; they are also a potential sources of air pollution from ships, vehicle emissions, material handling (i.e. dust), etc. The close proximity of many ports to populated areas only further exasperates their potential impact on human health and the environment. Inevitably, ports are now becoming a focus for air pollution control and environmental management measures for those air pollutants generated by their activities e.g. carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), and particulate matter (PM: PM10, PM2.5, PM1.0), etc. The health effects of prolonged exposure to these pollutants may include respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and even premature death.

Air quality and emissions to air from shipping vessels and port activity has long been a recognised health and environmental problem. Indeed, it has previously been identified as being an important air quality management issue in Europe by the European Union. The percentage contribution of ship and port activity related emissions to the total environmental burden are likely to increase as emissions from more recognisable pollution sources, motor vehicles and industrial sources, decline due to tightening governmental legislation, and the use of the marine transport grows.

The concern has resulted in many ports introducing their own Air Quality Strategies to reduce and mitigate for the levels of harmful emissions to air from marine sources and port activities. Such strategies consist of an Action Plan (generally over 5 or 10-years) with a set of proposals for action (e.g. actions for further studies, establishing standards, investigating opportunities to develop and implement greener technology, encouraging best practice, etc.). One such port implementing a strategy is the Port of London for the tidal Thames ( The Strategy sets challenging targets to reach over the next 25-years, in particular the reduction of NOX and PM, whilst still growing intrinsic port activity within the Port of London. To achieve these targets requires the implementation of a series of actions over the next 5-years. The successful achievement of them will require partnership working with operators, central and regional government, statutorily authorities and riparian municipalities and the general public. It is inevitable that size of the port is commensurate with the level of air quality strategy activity required.

Whilst many ports have undertaken studies of their own volition, the key driver for many of these activities has been governments implementing their own national air quality strategies. For example, the UK Clean Air Strategy published in January 2019 includes a request for major English ports to develop their own specific port air quality strategies by the end of the year.

Inevitably the question over what the port’s individual strategies should include arises. Strict unambiguous guidance is essential to avoid delays and confusion. Frequently confusion over interpretation of the overarching Clean Air Strategy requirements arise; this married with the individual ports technical resource limitations and scientific support availability can further add to costs and delay. Specialised air quality strategies of ports may require the development of baseline air quality monitoring protocols, emission inventories, air quality dispersion modelling studies and evaluating and modelling future mitigation measures port activities.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top