The recent proposal announced by state Reps. Jim Merrill and Leon Stavrinakis to earmark $5 million in the 2014 state budget for cruise ship shoreside power in Charleston should be met with great optimism and hope for a healthier Charleston.

Our primary concern is the public health of all our citizens and visitors, not other local aesthetic issues. Charleston City Council has wisely banned cigarette smoking around hospitals and in public buildings, and the State Ports Authority is wisely surcharging older-model diesel trucks compared to newer ones less soot-polluting.

Several years ago the Charleston County Medical Society and the South Carolina Medical Association published resolutions strongly in support of shore power over cruise ship soot pollution. But the SPA, Carnival Cruises, and the City of Charleston have been recalcitrant to support shore power to date.

Note that cruise ships produce four times more soot/particulate pollution compared to our many cargo ships, which often shut down their engines while dockside. In contrast, the Carnival Fantasy continues to run its engines belching soot pollution the entire time it is docked in the Historic District. A cruise ship running engines in port for its passengers (assuming the cleanest fuel as required in 2015) produces as much sulfur dioxide as 34,000 tractor-trailer trucks would over the same time period. Bunker fuel soot emissions are as carcinogenic (cancer-causing) as cigarette smoke and asbestos.

Ongoing nearby monitoring of particulate soot and air pollution (not only carbon particles, but also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide) requires major resources and is not a priority among the SPA, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the City of Charleston and other organizations concerned more with jobs than with public health. The American Lung Association and many medical articles document soot pollution exposure contributing to both acute asthma and bronchitis problems as well as chronic long-term harm from lung cancer, strokes (even within hours of exposure), cardiovascular disease, blood clots, and other pulmonary conditions. A study in the February 2012 Archives of Internal Medicine linked soot pollution with cognitive decline (dementia) in women. Hence, we have yet to learn the many long-term adverse public health effects of soot pollution, which often takes years to discover (not unlike smoking leading to lung cancer). Just because local folk aren't directly ill today does not mean that they will remain healthy tomorrow, next year or the next decade.

A 2013 study linking air pollution to deaths reported that soot pollution comprised 40 percent of all of the global deaths linked to air pollution. Another way of expressing the damage done is that, had all of those who died due to the pollution lived natural lives, it would have comprised an additional 25 million years of existence globally. By utilizing shore power while in port, the home-port ship (currently Carnival's oldest, the 25-year-old Fantasy) would lower harmful emissions of various pollutants by up to 97 percent versus what the ship would emit burning even the cleanest diesel fuels required in 2015 (Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, January 2014).

Ports around the country and the world that have installed shore power have already seen a decrease in respiratory diseases. Many ports of call in the US and around the world are increasingly turning to shore power for cargo and cruise ships, rather than suffer the ill effects of soot pollution. Examples include, but are not limited to: Juneau, Alaska; Los Angeles; Long Beach; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Vancouver, Canada; Rotterdam; Amsterdam; Venice; Sweden; Germany; Finland; Belgium; and Shanghai. Carnival has worked with several of these cities to implement shore power. Why not the same here in our Historic District?

Financially, shore power is quite "doable." Recently The Post and Courier reported that the Carnival Fantasy (the oldest ship in the massive Carnival fleet) is not retrofitted to shore power but can be. Friends of the Earth, for the fifth year in a row, has given the Carnival Fantasy an "F" for its environmental footprint, especially regarding air pollution. It would require only a few million dollars from the deep coffers of Carnival and the SPA to implement shore power, from which S.C. would gain income and healthier jobs. Otherwise, the long-term health care costs are many multiples of these short-term costs.

We support cruising and healthier jobs and applaud the bipartisan effort to provide funding for onshore power, which will further improve the health of all Charlestonians and visitors to our cleaner and more hospitable city, regardless of the ultimate site of the terminal and other issues.

Cleaner air is clearly the public health issue in which we all have a stake.

J. Gilbert Baldwin Jr., MD, FACP, is a member of the Charleston County Medical Society's Public/Environmental Health Committee. Robert T. Ball Jr., MD, MPH, FACP, is chair of the committee.