The Chamber of Petroleum Consumers has hinted at a possible legal action against importers of diesel which a research report says contain high levels of sulphur at the expense of public health.
“We will consider making a legal challenge. If the Swiss companies are aware that what they bring to us can destroy our environment and have effect on the health of people, but find it convenient to drop these products here, a legal challenge would be considered; the African cannot always be taken for granted,” the Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber of Petroleum Consumers, Mr Duncan Amoah, said.
He was reacting to a study conducted in Ghana and seven other African countries that revealed that the sulphur content of diesel products imported into the relevant countries were 150 times and, in some cases 1,000 times, more than the limits allowed in Europe.
Although the quality of the fuels imported into Ghana meets the country’s quality standards, the products pose a great risk to the health of consumers and easily damage the engines of vehicles.
But the Chief Executive of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), Mr Moses Asaga, debunked the assertions and stated that the sulphur levels in the diesel imported into the country were not as toxic as being suggested.
He told Radio Ghana that the authority had done an extensive emission test and found the result to be within acceptable limits.
According to the report, Swiss commodity traders, Trafigura and Vitol, are among a number of companies accused of exporting what environmentalists call “African quality” diesel, blending products in European facilities to create fuels with sulphur levels that are sometimes hundreds of times over European limits.
Mr Amoah said the chamber would discuss the issue with its council which comprised the Ghana Private Road Transport Union, the Association of Ghana Industries and other major bodies that consumed fuel in this country.
The three-year study conducted by Public Eye, a Swiss non-governmental organisation that fights injustices linked to the European country, detected health damaging substances, including polyaromatics (diesel) or benzene (gasoline), in concentrations that would never be allowed in fuels in Europe or the United States (US).
More than two-thirds of the diesel samples (17 out of 25) had a sulphur level higher than 1,500 parts per million (ppm), which is 150 times the European limit of 10 ppm. Ghana’s sulphur content standard is pegged at 3,000 ppm, but the research found Ghana’s diesel products imported by Trafigura and Vitol to contain between 2,410 and 2,730 ppm, which is lower than the acceptable Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) limits but much higher than the 10 ppm European standard.
“In a number of samples, we found traces of metals that also contribute to higher emissions of pollutants and damage to car engines,” Mr Gian-Valentino Viredaz, a commodities researcher with the NGO, told journalists at a press conference in Accra last Thursday.
According to the report titled: "Dirty Diesel," differences between national fuel quality regulations offered the opportunity for companies to profit from a form of regulatory arbitrage.
While the practice of blending fuel for profit is an acceptable industry practice, it is within the law of the countries where the products are exported to. That is the result of “regulatory arbitrage” that allows traders and fuel companies to dump cheap, dirty fuels at the expense of the health of the consuming public in Africa.
Paying more for danger?
Mr Amoah said it was worrying that although the Ghanaian consumer paid more than it counterparts in Kenya, the United States, Canada and Europe, the sulphur content of diesel on the Ghanaian market was higher and described it as unacceptable.
“A young graduate gets a job and raises money to buy a car while elsewhere in Europe the car could take quite a number of years before any major maintenance; in Ghana, by the third year, your vehicle will be smoking badly and you will be visiting the workshop every month. This makes car ownership very expensive for us,” he said.
According to experts, when the fuel is burned, the sulphur is released into the atmosphere as sulphur dioxide and other compounds that are major contributors to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma.
“If countries with very low sulphur levels are paying very low for their fuel while the Ghanaian consumer is paying so much, then clearly, someone is short-changing us,” he added.
According to him it appeared as though the regulator was either asleep or did not care.
“If an independent researcher could do this, I am sure the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) as a regulator can do much better. We are disappointed in their inability to protect us.”
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