I had to say a few words about the latest news that Swiss firms have been refining oil destined for Africa with levels of sulfur at least 200 times higher than in Europe. Sulfur is associated with heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory problems. Astounding isn’t it? But what is astounding to me is really why do countries who produce oil choose to refine it elsewhere and then import it back? Some will say that they are too poor to refine it; then why not train your own engineers to that effect; isn’t the cost of shipping it to Europe, then importing it back from European traders not high? Do you really think that those European companies responsible for refining it will not give you back trash for a lesser price? Who/What guarantees the quality? Well, those guilty Swiss companies claim that the regulations of African countries are too lax, and so they have done nothing wrong (so basically if they know something is toxic and has been banned everywhere, but Africans don’t know it, they will sell it to them). Here are a few excerpts from articles on the BBC, and AllAfrica. The maps are from BBC via UNEP.
“Swiss firms have been criticised in a report for their links to the African trade in diesel with toxin levels that are illegal in Europe.
[…] Why are regulations so lax?
The picture is changing but there are still several African countries which allow diesel to have a sulfur content of more than 2,000 parts per million (ppm), with some allowing more than 5,000ppm, whereas the European standard is less than 10ppm.
Rob de Jong from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) told the BBC that there was a lack of awareness among some policy makers about the significance of the sulfur content.
For a long time countries relied on colonial-era standards, which have only been revised in recent years.
Another issue is that in the countries where there are refineries, these are unable, for technical reasons, to reduce the sulphur levels to the standard acceptable in Europe. This means that the regulatory standard is kept at the level that the refineries can operate at.
Some governments are also worried that cleaner diesel would be more expensive, therefore pushing up the price of transport.
But Mr De Jong argued that the difference was minimal and oil price fluctuations were much more significant in determining the diesel price.” (Source: BBC)
“Speaking with journalists in Abuja, the Executive Director, ANEEJ, Mr. David Ugolor, tasked the federal government to pay serious attention to the dangers posed to the health of citizens by these Swiss commodity trading companies, Vitol and Trafigura.
He argued that due to poor regulatory activities, foreign companies like Vitol and Trafigura “take undue advantage of weak fuel standards in Africa to produce, deliver and sell diesel, petrol and gasoline, which damage the health of the people.”
According to Ugolor, the Swiss companies’ “business model relies on an illegitimate strategy of deliberately lowering the quality of fuels for gain.
“Using a common industry practice called blending, Vitol and Trafigura and their conglomerates mix cheap and toxic intermediate petroleum products to produce what the industry calls African Quality fuels.
“These products contain higher levels of Sulphur and other harmful poisons that can never be found in Europe and the United States.”
The ANEEL Executive Director contended that by “selling such fuel and diesel at the pump in Africa, the traders increase external air pollution, causing respiratory disease and premature deaths.
“We all know that poor air quality poses serious risks to public health. As air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases increases for residents of cities where the people rely on diesel to power their means of production.”
Ugolor maintained that the dirty fuel shipped to West Africa by Vitol and Trafigura are known to burn very fast, equally leading to huge economic losses to vehicle owners in the African sub region.
“It is impossible to continue to remain silent about this problem, especially for the short and long term repercussions on the health and economy of our people.” (Source: AllAfrica)