Africa’s dirty diesel scandal
Refineries in Europe and the U.S. Gulf are using lax standards to sell poison to the continent
DIESEL fumes in Accra, Ghana, contain five times more particulate matter (PM) than diesel fumes in London.
In Lagos, Nigeria, the cars belch out diesel that has 13 times more particles than in London.
This particulate matter comes from several sources, but dirty diesel is by far the main contributor.
These are the findings from a 160page report based on three years of research into the African fuel trade by Swiss corporate watchdog Public Eye (formerly the Berne Declaration).
The report entitled “Dirty Diesel” was released last week and argues that European and U.S. firms, but especially Swiss firms, are abusing lax regulations in African countries to dump fuel with high sulphur contents on the African continent.
“They work with politically connected individuals and do business with politically exposed persons. This happens in notoriously corrupt countries such as Angola, the Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe,” stated the report.
In Zimbabwe, the fuel industry is dominated by Swiss trading companies Glencore and Trafigura, which supply three front companies to meet local content laws, which requires petroleum companies to be 50% owned by Zimbabweans.
In total, the researchers sampled fuel in eight African states where fuel is supplied by Swiss companies, and found those states’ average sulphur content to be 200 times higher than in Europe. In the worst places, the PPM count is a 1 000 times that of Europe’s average.
“The results from our fuel tests are even more shocking when one considers that Africa, especially West Africa, supplies the world with the some of the best quality, low-sulphur, ‘sweet’ crude oil,” the report reads.
The report lists only China as another country facing similar problems, where exhaust fumes from old trucks are adding to the blanket of toxic smog Beijing is infamous for. But the Chinese government has set January next year as the deadline to start selling fuel containing only 10 particles per million (PPM) while Africa is still running its cars on any cheap fuel it can get.
“Nothing justifies this situation,” states the report.
“There is no technological challenge, no restrictions to the availability of lowsulphur fuels, no significant economical impact related to their adoption.”
The report quotes Jane Akumu, leader of the African campaign at the UN Environmental Programme’s Transport Unit, who said adopting ultra-low sulphur fuels would save governments money in dramatically lowering illnesses and deaths from urban air pollution.
With car ownership rapidly increasing in Africa, the researchers predict that Africa will have three times as many deaths from vehicle-related air pollution as the U.S., Europe, and Japan combined by 2030.
Public Eye calls on African governments to ban all dirty fuels and government of export hubs for “African quality” fuels in Amsterdam, Antwerp and the U.S. Gulf to prohibit such exports.
Public Eye makes it clear that none of the dirty fuel suppliers to Africa were exceeding legal limits, but stressed that governments would get what they allow, and with that all the respiratory diseases associated with high particulate counts in the air.
The companies simply take advantage of weak fuel standards in Africa to produce, deliver and sell low-quality fuel — what the industry calls “African Quality” — in order to increase profits.
If African countries were to adopt European fuel standards (10 ppm) for sulphur in diesel, they would immediately cut by 50% the traffic-related air pollution from particulate matter.
This adds up to preventing 25 000 premature deaths in 2030 and almost 100 000 premature deaths in 2050, the report states, adding such a move would also reduce car maintenance costs and allow people to spend their budgets on other pressing issues.
Africa’s governments need to set higher standards to prevent dirty diesel and petrol from killing its citizens, says a Swiss corporate watchdog.