CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A new study says emissions from existing port terminals could cost Charleston County as much as $54 million dollars a year in health care expenses.
The dollar amount is expected to increase to $81 million when ships start sailing into the new North Charleston terminal in six years.
These are some of the findings of the study the Coastal Conservation League commissioned consulting firm Abt Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts to conduct.
The League paid $32,000 for the study.
"I think it's one of the first done in the Southeast. It puts a dollar figure on health impacts," said League representative Nancy Vinson.
The Abt report indicates when the new terminal opens in North Charleston fumes from ships and trucks hauling cargo will release particles into the air.
These particles have a strong link to health problems, including asthma, stroke, cancer, heart disease and premature death.
The study estimates the pollution will take a toll on the health of people in North Charleston and other parts of Charleston County, such as Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant and downtown Charleston.
The Charleston County Medical Society, a group of local doctors, reviewed the study and says it is accurate.
"We really don't have an agenda other than let's make sure whatever we do in this Charleston area helps the health of people," said Charleston County Medical Society President Dr. William Hueston.
"When we build a highway we want it to be the safest highway possible that we can drive on so we don't have a lot of accidents and a lot of people killed, and when we expand the port it should be in a way that helps for jobs at the same time provides the least amount of damage to the rest of the people who live in this area," said Hueston.
Hueston agrees with the Coastal Conservation League that stricter measures need to be put in place to reduce port pollution.
Some of the suggestions include requiring ships to shut down while idling and to use low sulfur diesel, utilizing railways to haul port cargo, and requiring trucks to use special filters to reduce emissions.
State Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller said steps are already being taken to reduce pollution.
"It's commonly accepted that emissions from cars, emissions from trucks, emissions from ships…those things are not healthy and we need to reduce them. We're doing our part here at the port to do that," said Miller.
According to Miller the State Ports Authority already uses ultra-low sulfur diesel for all off-road equipment on port terminals, 20 percent of port cargo in Charleston moves by rail and right now 200 trucks are being outfitted with filters to cut down on emissions.
Miller said over time it is very likely more port cargo will be transported by rail and trucks outfitted with filters.