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'Urgent need for action to prevent ILD caused by marine engines'

Large ships navigating majestically along the coastline: while it can be a pretty view to the eyes, your lungs might very well suffer form it. Ship engine emissions trigger inflammatory processes that influence the development of interstitial lung diseases (ILD), reason for scientists to argue for the introduction of efficient particle reducing measures on these ships.

'Macrophages are known as scavenger cells of the immune system and respond more sensitively to particulate matter in the lungs than lung epithelial cells.'

Scientists from Finland, Germany and Luxembourg published an article in the journal PLOS One, which shows that ship emissions adversely affect the health of inhabitants of coastal regions. An important role in this mechanism is played by the macrophages. Sean Sapcariu, first author of the study and doctoral student at the University of Luxembourg, explains: “Macrophages are known as scavenger cells of the immune system and respond more sensitively to particulate matter in the lungs than lung epithelial cells, since they are the 'first line of response' against foreign invaders in the lungs such as germs or even fine dust particles.”


The researchers found that emitted particles both from the heavy fuel oil and from the diesel exhaust (two of the main fuels used in marine engines) had similarly high toxic effects on the macrophages. Surprisingly, the toxic effects leading to cell death are slightly lower in the heavy fuel oil emissions, although the concentrations of known toxic pollutants in the heavy oil emissions are much higher. This means that the ban of the heavy fuel oil used in coastal shipping, which is currently being propagated and partially already implemented, is probably less beneficial than expected for protecting the health of people in coastal areas. According to Sapcariu, the simplest and safest way to mitigate the adverse health effects from ship engine emissions would be to introduce efficient particle reducing measures such as exhaust gas scrubbers and particle filters.

“These would precipitate the harmful fine particles from the emissions and thus reduce the adverse health effects, irrespective of the fuel used. Since such measures are generally not implemented on a voluntary basis, in our view there is an urgent need for action by policy makers in government and by national and European regulatory authorities.

Sean C. Sapcariu et al. Metabolic Profiling as Well as Stable Isotope Assisted Metabolic and Proteomic Analysis of RAW 264.7 Macrophages Exposed to Ship Engine Aerosol Emissions: Different Effects of Heavy Fuel Oil and Refined Diesel Fuel. PLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (6): e0157964 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157964

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