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Sulphur content in the air halved since 2014

New sulphur monitoring figures in Denmark show that sulphur concentrations in the air are falling and have fallen by 50% or more over the past two years. This significant fall is the result of tighter requirements for marine fuels introduced in 2015.

The sulphur content in the air is falling in Denmark and in Danish waters. New figures from the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy (DCE) at Aarhus University show that, in 2016, the sulphur content was at least 50% lower at all three Danish monitoring stations compared with 2014.

As early as last year, considerable impacts were recorded from the new sulphur requirements for marine fuels introduced on 1 January 2015, and the trend continues.

- A high sulphur content in the air is harmful to human health. It can cause respiratory diseases and premature death. About 20% of all health impacts in Denmark caused by air pollution come from ships. Therefore, it's good news that our tighter rules are having the intended effects, said Danish Minister for Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen.

Sulphur is also harmful to the environment, and high sulphur concentrations can acidify the soil as well as water bodies, and among other things can cause fish death, as we saw in the 1970s in Norwegian and Swedish lakes.

Ships are complying with the rules

Since 1 January 2015, ships sailing in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea or in waters around North America have been required to use fuel with a maximum of 0.1% sulphur. This is a reduction requirement of 90% compared to previous rules. 

- The fact that the sulphur content in the air is also low in 2016 indicates that by far the majority of ships sailing in Danish waters are complying with the rules, and that enforcement is working. The Danish EPA has clamped down on those who break the law, and since the tighter rules entered into force, the Agency has reported 12 ships to the police, because oil samples from the ships showed excessive levels of sulphur, said Esben Lunde Larsen.

In addition to oil samples, the Danish EPA uses an artificial nose – a so-called sniffer – fitted on the Great Belt Bridge, which can sniff out any ships passing under the bridge and ignoring the fuel requirements. The 'sniffer' has also been fitted on a small aircraft to monitor ships sailing through the major shipping lanes in Danish waters. Measurements from the 'sniffer' confirm that by far the majority of ships in Danish waters seem to be complying with the rules.

Just last week, Member States of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to cover all other global waters by the tighter sulphur requirements. The IMO decided that from 2020 marine fuels may not contain more than 0.5% sulphur compared with the present 3.5%. 

Drop in sulphur concentrations in Denmark:

Monitoring station Anholt: 62% lower than in 2014

Monitoring station Risø: 50% lower than in 2014

Monitoring station Tange: 56% lower than in 2014.

Read memo about the measurements from DCE here.

Further information:

Jeanette Løv Rasmussen, Press Officer, Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, tel.: +45 9359 7070, e-mail: 

Sara Røpke, Head of Division at the Danish EPA, tel.: +45 4178 2039, e-mail

Thomas Ellermann, Senior Researcher, Danish Centre for Environment and Energy at Aarhus University (AU/DCE), tel.: +45 5148 9584, e-mail: