The Strategist

Public Eye: Swiss companies sell dirty fuels in Africa

09/22/2016 - 16:54

Swiss commodity trading companies Vitol and Trafigura are suppling dirty diesel fuel and gasoline with high content of toxic substances in the African countries. They are realizing the fuels through a chain of controlled gas stations.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This states a report "Swiss Commodity Traders Flood Africa with Toxic Fuel" published by Swiss non-profit association Public Eye.

The main actors here Swiss Vitol and Trafigura, the largest companies in the world, dealing with raw materials trading. The report also names smaller private companies, such as Addax Petroleum and Oryx Petroleum, also registered in Switzerland, as well as subsidiary units of Vitol, Trafigura, Addax Petroleum, Oryx Petroleum and Lynx Energy in Africa.

As noted in the Public Eye study, Swiss companies are actively taking advantages of the African continent’s rather mild restrictions on the content of harmful substances in the diesel fuel and gasoline. The authors tested samples of diesel fuel from a variety of African countries, and found out that sulfur content there was tens or even hundreds of times higher than standards for sulfur content in diesel fuel established in Europe.

The report on "dirty diesel" in Africa, based on a three years-long study, for the first time demonstrated key role of Swiss commodities trading companies in then African fuel industry. The authors brought to light scandalous business model of the supply chain, fully controlled by the above-mentioned companies. They are acting producers, suppliers and - in some regions - operators of petrol stations chains.

Mostly, activities of Vitol, Trafigura, Addax and Oryx are concentrated in the West African countries. According to the study, they are ruthlessly exploiting weak regulatory standards and are forcing the urban population to pay for it with their health.

Public Eye Researchers tested samples of fuel at local gas stations in eight countries in the region. The results were shocking. The experts found out that the sulfur content in diesel fuel samples in some cases was almost 378 times higher than limits permissible in Europe. Moreover, content of other toxic substances such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also reached levels prohibited in Europe.

The 160-page report also shows that the trading companies not only are delivering dirty diesel fuel and gasoline, but are also selling them at their own gas stations in some regions. They have even established local production. The companies are mixing a cocktail of petrochemical products of oil refining and other components, which the industry unofficially named as "African quality."

These toxic fuel mixtures are mainly produced in the area of Amsterdam - Rotterdam - Antwerp, where the Swiss trading companies own their own refineries and fuel depots. Many countries in West Africa provide Europe with high-quality crude oil in exchange for low-quality toxic fuel.

The toxic fuel has a huge impact on the atmosphere. In the next 45 years, air pollution will kill more than 200 million people, predicted the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It is estimated that up to 2060, number of such deaths will be about 6-9 million per year, compared with 3 million in 2010.

By the end of 2060, the world economy will lose 3.75 billion man-days per year due to effects of air pollution on health of employees and labor productivity. Direct effect of this pollution may exceed 1% of global GDP, or $ 2.6 trillion a year, believe the OECD experts.

At the same time, air pollution will increase spread of related diseases. For instance, number of new cases of bronchitis in children aged 6 to 12 years old will increase four times, up to 36 million per year. The figure for adults will nearly triple to 10 million a year. 

Air pollution reduces life expectancy of the population, and impairs its quality for both adults and children. In addition, it reduces quantity and quality of food production, the OECD said. According to the organization, the modern technology quite effectively clears the air. However, authorities still prefer to consider only costs on such technologies in the short term, not the long-term benefits, whether economic or social.


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