US proposals for an Emission Control Area (ECA) off the coast of North America have been given the go-ahead by the International Maritime Organisation.

The move is expected to result in cleaner air and public health benefits for millions of Americans as large ships operating in the ECAs will use cleaner fuel and technology, according to

EPA Administrator Lisa P Jackson said the change will benefit millions of people and set in motion new innovations for the shipping industry.

“The sulphur, particulate emissions and other harmful pollutants from large ships reach from our ports to communities hundreds of miles inland bringing with them health, environmental and economic burdens,” Jackson said.

Currently, large commercial ships visiting US ports use fuel with very high sulphur content emitting harmful levels of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide when burned, causing severe respiratory symptoms in children and adults.

Implementation of new ECA standards will begin early in 2012 and is expected to reach around 1,000 parts per million by 2015.

In addition, new ships must use advanced emission control technologies beginning in 2016, which will help reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

Enforced ECA standards will reduce sulphur content in fuel by 98% eliminating particulate matter emissions by 85%, and NOx emissions by 80%.