The dirty truth about ship scrubbers

May 10, 2021

Last month, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) released a shocking new global report on ship pollution cheat devices, or scrubbers, and let me tell you, it’s enlightening (and a bit terrifying if I’m being honest).

85% of scrubbers – the mechanism that “cleans” sulfur out of ship exhaust plumes so operators can keep burning one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on earth – are open-loop systems. Meaning, they continuously dump toxic, acidic wastewater straight into the ocean.

This report makes it crystal clear (like our oceans should be) that we need bilateral action to ban scrubbers NOW, and we’re going to the top to make it happen. You can take action by using our tool to tell Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden (and their transport and environment cabinet members) to put an end to this dangerous cheat system and ban scrubbers in the North American Emission Control Area (ECA).

Here are a few more findings from the ICCT report if you need any more reason to believe that banning scrubbers in the U.S. and Canada is an ocean-critical initiative:

  • The U.S. has the largest volume of scrubber wastewater discharge of ANYWHERE in the world

  • Vancouver is the fourth most scrubber-polluted port in the WORLD
  • Dumping hot, acidic scrubber wastewater in coastal areas could double or quadruple ocean acidification in heavily impacted areas beyond what we can already expect from climate change

This report shows what the shipping industry doesn’t want us to know: Scrubbers aren’t a “green” solution at all. They dump acidic, hot wastewater full of carcinogens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and heavy metals into the ocean – and these contaminants don’t just disappear. They accumulate in the blubber of endangered species like orcas and belugas and concentrate up the food web – including into the seafood we put in our stomachs.

Now is the time to take action on scrubbers. Biden and Trudeau claim to be progressive champions in the fight to stop the climate crisis and protect the future of our living planet, but let’s see if they’re willing to walk the walk with all that talk.

We need to demand that the Biden and Trudeau administrations take immediate action to ban scrubbers in the North American ECA.

While this report sheds light on some terrifying truths, I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of this community of over half a million climate and ocean activists. Together, we can make waves in this fight to protect our planet.