A tale of indoor pollution on cruise ships (worse than Beijing)

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As we can see in films, cruise ship life is so luxurious with many amenities such as mini-golf, swimming pools, rock climbing, casinos, and other amenities that makes us want to have a vacation on a cruise ship at least once in our lives and imagine our lives as they are in the movies. 

However, an associate professor at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that the air quality on cruise ships is far lower than that of some of the world’s most polluted cities, like Beijing, China, and Santiago, Chile. 

The study measured the concentration of PM (particles with sizes between 0.02- 1.0 µm) on four cruise ships: 

  • The deck of two Carnival Cruise Line ships in the Caribbean, the Carnival Liberty during October 2017 and the Carnival Freedom during April–May 2018; 
  • The deck of a Holland America ship (MS Amsterdam) that travelled along the west coast of Canada and the US during October 2018; 
  • The deck of a Princess ship (Emerald) that travelled along the west coast of the US and Mexico during November 2018. 

The measurements were taken in the bow area (in front of the ship’s smokestacks), as well as two areas in the stern aft of the ship’s smokestack and the bow area (including the designated areas for exercises like basketball courts and running tracks). As shown in the diagram above.  

Picture from “An Investigation of air pollution on the decks of 4 cruise ships” – Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, January 24, 2019. 


Researchers discovered that the average particle counts on these four ships ranged from 1,540 to 33,514 particles per cubic centimetre (Pt/cc), and he compared these findings to experiments conducted in notoriously contaminated cities. In 2009, a busy street in Beijing had concentrations of about 30,000 pt/cc, while a train station in Taipei had readings of 15,500 pt/cc. The pollution that is responsible for the cigarettes 

Unfortunately, the stern, or rear, of the dock, which is normally closest to the ship’s smokestacks, is the perfect location for recreational amenities such as basketball courts, rock climbing, or mini-golf because it is shielded from the stronger winds. 

  • Particle counts on the Holland America MS Amsterdam were approximately eight times higher on the stern areas than on the bow. 
  • Particle counts on the Carnival Freedom measured as high as 73,621 particles per cubic centimetre (pt/cc) near the running track while at sea. 
  • Particle counts on the Princess Cruises Emerald Princess measured as high as 157,716 pt/cc on the lower stern while at sea. 

Too much exposure to particulate matter, specifically particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter, can damage the heart and lungs because they can easily enter our lungs. 

According to the survey, nearly 70% of ship emissions occur within 250 miles of shore, exposing millions of people, including cruise ship crew and passengers, to air pollution. 

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