The establishment of an Emission Control Area in the Mediterranean would bring enormous air quality benefits, save 6,000 lives and reduce the healthcare bill of several countries, BirdLife Malta said on Thursday.

It was reacting to a French report on air pollution from shipping. The report was compiled by Ineris, the French national institute for industrial environment and risks.  

The impact assessment, which started in 2017, investigated potential air quality improvements in the region following a switch to better grade marine fuels.

The report found that particulate matter (PM) can be reduced by up to 20% and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels by up to 76%, leading to up to €14 billion in reduced health costs and potentially saving more than 6,000 lives every year in the region.

Air pollution from shipping can represent up to 40% of all Mediterranean coastal city air pollution. It represents a significant threat for human health, the environment and climate.

"The main reason for this pollution is the use of heavy fuel oil, highly charged in sulphur that emits black carbon, heavy metals, fine particulates and sulphur dioxide. As pollutants are carried over long distances, it is not only the inhabitants of littoral zones but also the populations in the inland regions who are subject to respiratory issues as well as inflammations and cardiovascular diseases," the report states.

The key finding is that the region would benefit most from a combined Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) and Nitrogen Emission Control Area (NECA). Sulphur dioxide (SO2) would be reduced by 77% and in port areas even by 100%. NO2 would decline by up to 76% in coastal areas and the east of the Mediterranean Sea. The annual mean of particulate matter (PM2.5) will go down by 15 to 20%.

Shipping emissions cause 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe and cost €60 billion just in health costs per year in the European Union (EU).In the Mediterranean region only, about 6,000 premature deaths could be avoided due to the reduction of the particle pollution.

Charlotte Lepitre, Health Policy Officer at France Nature Environnement (FNE), said: “The study shows the need for a Mediterranean Emission Control Area. The French Environment Ministry must now take its role as a leader and search for support in as many Mediterranean countries as possible.”  

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