The report, “Dirty Diesel” from Swiss, watchdog group, Public Eye, said the companies are taking advantage of weak African regulatory standards to use cheap and dirty additives to create what’s called “African Quality” fuels.
Senegal and Ghana are the other countries mentioned in the report. Vitol, Trafigura, Addax & Oryx and Lynx Energy have been named because they are shareholders of the fuel retailers. The practice is not illegal. The report quotes Swiss trading giants, Oryx, Trafigura and Vitol as noting that the blends met standards in the importing countries, with the largest amounts going to Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana. They said they have no vested interest in keeping sulphur levels higher than they need to be.
But Public Eye accused the companies of lowering a fuel’s quality to just above a country’s legal limits to maximise profits by adding toxic products known to cause respiratory diseases.
Although this is within the limits set by national governments, the sulphur contained in the fumes from the diesel fuel could increase respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis in affected countries, health experts said.
The picture is changing but there are still several African countries that allow diesel to have a sulphur 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 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) told the BBC that there was a lack of awareness among some policy makers about the significance of the sulphur 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 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 De Jong argued that the difference was minimal and oil price fluctuations were much more significant in determining the diesel price.
The sulphur particles emitted by a diesel engine are considered to be a major contributor to air pollution, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks as one of the top global health risks.
It is associated with heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory problems.
WHO said that pollution is particularly bad in low and middle income countries. Reducing the sulphur content in diesel would go some way to reducing the risk that air pollution poses.
Meanwhile, Deputy Director, Public Affairs, at the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Dorothy Bassey told Daily Sun in a telephone interview that there is no cause for alarm as all petroleum products are tested before entering the shores of the country. According to her, any product or products that fail the specification test are sent back to the country of origin.
"But if by error of omission or commission any product/s that fall short of the required specification find their way into the country, the importer of such products will be severely sanctioned," she said.
On his part, the NNPC spokesman, Mr. Mohammed Garbadeen, said that, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will not deliberately import toxic fuel into the country.