BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Sulphur dioxide emissions, which cause acid rain, have dropped by 66 percent from ships in European Union ports since a new policy on shipping fuel began in 2010, research by the EU Commission showed on Tuesday.
Scientists at the EU Commission's Joint Research Centre measured air quality in Mediterranean harbors before and after the entry into force of the low-sulphur requirements for ships at anchor in January 2010.
In European Mediterranean harbors (Civitavecchia and Savona in Italy and Palma de Mallorca in Spain), they found an average decrease of 66 percent in concentrations of sulphur dioxide, while measurements taken in the non-EU port of Tunis showed no decline.
"This shows that the decreases in sulphur dioxide are a direct consequence of the application of the EU requirements," the Commission said in a statement.
"The study also confirms a correlation between sulphur dioxide and chemical elements typically emitted from ship stacks, which demonstrates that ships were the main source of sulphur dioxide in the harbors."
From January 2010, all ships berthed or anchored in EU harbors had to use fuels with a sulphur content of less than 0.1 percent by weight. Previously, a sulphur content of up to 4.5 percent was allowed.
Sulphur dioxide is one of the main chemicals responsible for formation of acid rain, which harms plants, aquatic animals and infrastructure. It can also contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Governments worldwide have made efforts since the 1970s to reduce the release of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by Nina Chestney)