A boom in shipping is aggravating air pollution in China and other nations in east Asia, causing thousands of deaths a year in a region with eight of the world’s 10 biggest container ports, scientists have said. Ship traffic, often overlooked compared to cars and factories that are far bigger causes of smog, has more than doubled off east Asia since 2005 and some pollution from the fuel oil of ships wafts inland, scientists said on Monday. The Chinese-led study estimated that sulphur dioxide, which generates acid rain, and other pollution from ships caused an estimated 24,000 premature deaths a year in east Asia, mainly from heart and lung diseases and cancer.
About three-quarters of deaths were in China, and others mainly in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change based on satellite data-tracking of almost 19,000 vessels. The death toll is a tiny though rising share of an estimated one million deaths caused annually by air pollution in east Asia, the study found. Given many uncertainties, the number of deaths could be as low as 14,500 or as high as 37,500, it said.