Africa Is Burning the High-Sulphur Diesel That Europe Won't Accept

Nairobi traffic 1 photo
Photo: rogiro on Flickr
We might live with the impression that unlike our busy, Western cities, life in less developed countries such as most of the ones in Africa involves, despite all the hardship, lots of clean air. Well, a recent report released by the campaign group Public Eye raises some concern over the quality of the fuel used in most of the countries on that continent.
The report points the finger at Swiss commodity trading firms that are taking advantage of the lax legislation there to sell the fuel they make despite having high or very high levels of sulfur. The companies named by Public Eye are Vitol, Trafigura and Addax & Oryx, generally operating in the ARA-Zone (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp) in Holland where their refineries and storage facilities are located.

The culprits defend themselves by saying they are doing nothing illegal as they provide fuel that meets the legislation in the respective country. But while the European standard for sulfur concentration in diesel is less than 10ppm (parts per million), in Africa, some governments will take 2,000ppm, or even 5,000. Countries like Somalia, the Republic of Congo, and, surprisingly, Egypt and Tunisia, will accept diesel with more than 5,000ppm, while as many as 16 other countries accept concentrations of up to that level.

One of the reasons for the low-quality fuel isn't related to politics, but to the country's own abilities to refine oil. Lacking the technical expertise to obtain purer products, the standard has to be kept at a level that can be met by the local production. Others, on the other hand, fear that stricter legislation would push the price of the oil up, thus affecting the economy on a much greater scale.

The release of sulfur particles in the air is regarded as one of the most important contributors to air pollution, having links with respiratory problems, lung cancer or heart disease. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working with local governments in an attempt to persuade them to tighten the regulations concerning the sulfur content of diesel fuel. According to the BBC, the organization is feeling optimistic about its chances to generate a change in the area, one that all people from the area will benefit from.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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