Skip Navigation

Tox Town - Environmental health concerns and toxic chemicals where you live, work, and play
Cruise Shipen español

Why are cruise ships a concern?

Cruise vacations are becoming more popular, and cruise ships are getting larger. Because of these changes, there are concerns about the impacts of the cruise ship industry on human health and the environment, especially on water quality. 

Traveling on a cruise ship exposes people to new places and large numbers of people in a confined and crowded environment. There is a risk of illness from contaminated food or water or from personal contact. The main diseases associated with cruise ships are stomach and intestinal illnesses linked to food or water consumed onboard. Other health problems associated with cruise ships are communicable diseases such as flu and Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia caused by inhaling bacteria spread through the air. Frequent handwashing and other basic precautions can help you stay healthy during a cruise. 

Environmental concerns about cruise ships include sewage, wastewater, and garbage generated by the ships. Sewage discharged from cruise ships can pollute the marine environment, contaminate shellfish, and make water unusable for fishing, swimming, and other recreation. Ships collect leaking ocean water, along with oil and other contaminants from ship operations, in the lowest part of the ship, the bilge. When bilge water is emptied into the ocean, the chemicals and petroleum products in the water can poison fish, birds, and other marine life. Ships also fill ballast tanks with water to maintain the ship’s stability. Bilge water and ballast water may be pumped onboard in one area, along with local pollutants, plant life and animal life, and carried great distances before being discharged. When ballast and bilge water are discharged, they can cause water pollution, especially troublesome in pristine waters where cruise ships often travel. 

If trash is thrown overboard from cruise ships, it can hurt marine life, pollute beaches, and clog the engines or propellers of other boats. Cruise ships with diesel engines emit exhaust that is high in sulfur pollutants. Services for passengers, like hair salons and drycleaners, have the same health concerns and use the same chemicals as land-based businesses. 

Many cruise lines are taking steps to keep passengers and the environment healthy through proper management of trash, sewage, hazardous waste, fuels, bilge, and ballast.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.

Last Updated: November 19, 2014