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Cruise Ship Pollution Concerns In South Boston

BOSTON (CBS) - Taking a cruise is one of the most popular vacations, but there is an environmental downside. The massive ships burn the dirtiest type of fuel, even when they're sitting in port. And for something as large as a floating city, a ship needs to generate a lot of power, around the clock, running its own generators.

"It's just not efficient to run those generators consistently, particularly when they are running on very polluting fuels like bunker fuel which is one of the most polluting fossil fuels," said Ryan Black of the Sierra Club. "When you have residential areas like South Boston which is right down the street from the port here... you have issues of asthma, but also heart disease, cancer, and any other kind of respiratory illness."

The cruise industry has never more been more popular around here. In 1986, there were just 13 cruise ships in Boston serving about 12,000 passengers. Last year those numbers jumped to 117 ships with more than 380,000 passengers.

One solution to avoid the generation of so much pollution in port is to have ships plug into shore power when they are docked. That requires some changes to the infrastructure, but ports like Los Angeles and Brooklyn have been able to start making those upgrades. If ships are powered off the grid, that electricity is increasingly renewable like wind and solar. Noxious emissions can be cut by 95% percent.

Congressman Stephen Lynch, who lives within walking distance of the port of Boston, is concerned about the level of pollution created by the ships. Lynch has filed bills in the last three years trying to get some federal assistance for a big project like upgrading the electrical infrastructure along the docks. "We need to have a partnership with Massport, the federal government, the port of Boston, the state. We need to work together. That is how this is going to work."

Massport is currently building a system to let idling planes plug into the grid at Logan Airport, but when it comes to cruise ships, a spokesman issued this statement: "Shore power holds potential and we are looking closely at it, but none of the ships that call Boston are equipped to plug into shore power and it is unknown when they will have that technology on board."

The federal government has mandated the removal of sulfur from bunker fuel next year, but Black of the Sierra Club say that is not a substitute for going to shore power. "That still leaves the problem of carbon, volatile organics, and fine particulant matter and it would be nice to know when our kids go outside they are not breathing some of the worse emissions that frankly, are found in our industrial society."

A spokesman for the cruise ship industry says ships follow all current environmental rules and that the industry as a whole is working to develop less polluting technologies.

Massport estimates the cruise industry supports about 7,500 jobs in the Boston area.

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