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Energy & Environment

New Study Looks At Environmental Dangers Posed By Cruise Ship Emissions

Researchers say emissions can pose a threat to coastal cities like Galveston that are working to lure more cruise business.
In a photo provided by, smoke is seen coming from the smokestacks of Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess cruise ship while docked in the Port of Los Angeles in November 2018. The ship was one of the vessels included in the group's undercover investigation.

Emissions from cruise ships can pose health hazards not only for passengers, but also for people in coastal communities, according to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

As part of an undercover investigation they tested emissions on four cruise ships over a two-year period. One of the ships they tested was the Carnival Freedom, which sails out of Galveston.

The study was compiled for the environmental organization's Kendra Ulrich said they found that air quality was the worst downwind from the smokestacks where you find a lot of the ship's outdoor recreational facilities — and that dirty air can travel even further.

"What is happening offshore while these cruise ships are traveling down the coast can have a significant impact on the communities that they're passing," said Ullrich. "Studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of global ship emissions happen within 250 miles from shore. This pollution can travel far inland and expose millions of unsuspecting people to ship exhaust emissions."

Galveston is currently the fourth-busiest cruise ship port in the country, and it's expecting even more business in the future. Royal Carribean is investing about $100 million in a new cruise ship terminal that's expected to open in 2021.

As a result of its study, said it's now appealing to Carnival Cruise Line to stop using heavy fuels. In a response via email, Carnival called the study “misleading and inaccurate” saying they’ve installed Advanced Air Quality Systems on nearly 80% of their global fleet. The company says it’s also launching new ships powered by LNG.

Here is the full text of Carnival’s response:

“These so-called fly-by tests are completely ridiculous, inaccurate and in no way represent reality. We test the air quality of our ships and they meet or exceed every requirement.

The air quality on our ship decks when in port compares favorably with a typical urban or suburban environment. Independent testing on our funnels – which is the area where the exhaust originates- further validates our claims.

This particular organization, for fund raising purposes, is constantly in search of a problem in our industry even if it has to create fake tests that really have no scientific basis. The safety of our guests is our top priority and we undertake our cruises in close coordination with national and international regulatory bodies like the EPA to insure the utmost safety of our guests and crew.”


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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

News Anchor

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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