Breathing on a Cruise Ship Can Be Just as Bad As Breathing in Beijing

For some people, taking a cruise is a chance to get away from it all.

Except people. And paying too much for a tiny room. And food that’s better than what you could make at home.

Most of all, however, you’re not really getting away from bad air. According to recent study commissioned by the environmental advocacy organization Stand.earth, cruise ships are cropdusting particulate matter (PM) all over the damn place. PM refers to the tiny airborne bad guys more commonly known as pollution.

“Concentrations of PM on the decks of these ships are comparable to concentrations measured in polluted cities, including Beijing and Santiago,” reads the study. “Despite being on the open water and in open air, vacationers and cruise ship staff may be exposed to elevated concentrations of PM.”

The study notes that particle counts were significantly higher in the areas aft of the smokestacks towards the stern, compared to areas towards the bow (forward of the smokestacks). That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that exercise areas often feature towards a ship’s stern.

So, how much pollution are we talking? Four ships were analyzed, with an average particulate matter concentration in the areas aft of the smokestacks ranging between 9,702–32,628 Pt/cc. A busy street in Beijing sees an average UFP concentration around 30,000 Pt/cc.

Like a hot summer’s day, pollution is often most dangerous for the elderly – a.k.a. the cruise ship demographic.

The study cites a journal that says “ship engine emissions are important with regard to lung and cardiovascular diseases especially in coastal regions worldwide. Epidemiological studies attribute up to 60,000 annual deaths from lung and cardiovascular disease to ship engine [particulate matter].” What’s probably worse than living in a port city is doing hardcore cardio, like tennis, underneath a smokestack.

As the saying goes, you’re likely to die of cruise ship pollution than you are of getting eaten by a shark.