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February 29, 2008



As an air quality professional, I have a few comments on your article.

Although your logic may be sound from a greenhouse gas perspective, shipping cargo via boat has impacts on local air quality. A 2005 California Air Resources Board (CARB) exposure study at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shows that more than two million people live in areas around the ports with predicted cancer risks of greater than 10 in a million due emissions from docked ocean-going vessels. From that study and other data, CARB estimates that about 61 premature deaths per year can be attributed to exposure to diesel exhaust generated from ships in port. In 1998 CARB formally identified particles in diesel exhaust as a toxic air contaminant.

Rail may be the lowest GHG option for transport to land-locked cities, but locomotives are also a large source of diesel exhaust. The locomotives used in switchyards are often much older and dirtier than those used for long hauls, so residents who live nearby are exposed to the diesel exhaust from locomotives maneuvering and idling.

My main point is -- Before we make blanket statements about which mode is the best, we must look holistically at the issue. I agree that we should reduce our carbon footprints as much as possible, but we should not force residents in port cities in Canada and around the globe to bear an unfair burden.

I should also point out that in Canada rail is federally regulated, and marine vessels are federally and internationally regulated. So in order to reduce the the air quality impacts of these two sources, we all need to pressure the federal government to force marine vessels and locomotives to clean up their acts -- air quality AND greenhouse gas-wise.


Hi Laurie,

Right on! Sometimes writing a 30-50 word blog leaves little room for precision analysis.

One needs to fully understand the frame of reference to analyzing environmental impacts. As you note, cargo ships produce some of the worst carcinogenic emmissions because it burns the cheapest (and dirtest) fuel. As it approaches our ports, it's then only forced to burn a cleaner fuel.

Thanks for making this critical point. The world is much more complex (and mayber even uglier) than portrayed by me.



Hi HC,

I work for the Sustainability Group at the City of Vancouver and last year worked on an internal comparison piece looking at GHG emissions for different passenger transportation modes. Now, I'm looking a little more at freight transportation. I wonder where you got your emissions/kg-km data from as that is exactly the sort of thing I've been asked to compile. Thanks for the information!


Claude Frégeau

Global warming? It was once much warmer on earth.

We are measuring the earth temperature since only a few years, started probably around 1850, but we seems to forget historical facts.

In 980, the Vikings (Eric the Red) discovered Greenland, and is was so green then they established several villages with sheeps and cows. There were no Inuits there at that time, they came around 1500.

Later on the same Vikings, (Leif Ericson), discover Newfoundland and it was so warm then, that they named the place VinLand, because of the vineyard close to the ones in California.

They finally left the place in 1350, when a small IceAge started in Europe, for a few centuries.

The planet is getting warmer, right, but it was once, only a few centuries ago, much warmer, then it cooled down. We are a drop in the ocean. Mother Nature is much more powerfull than us. Start questionning, read everything, ask yourself, THINK for yourself, discuss...

Claude Frégeau


Hi Claude,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I hope you are right because our planet is changing for the worse.

However, the international community of scientists are concluding something different from what you are suggesting. We need to question and critique but we also need to act because there is an urgency.

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