Ghana bans toxic fuel imports

European firms take advantage of weak regulations in West Africa to sneak in fuels with high sulfur levels

European firms take advantage of weak regulations in West Africa to sneak in fuels with high sulfur levels

Ghana and four other West African countries have agreed to tighten their air quality standards and stop importing toxic fuels from Europe, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has said.

After a summit with the UNEP, Ghana together with Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire decided to limit sulphur in fuels from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million, which is 60 times less.

The UNEP said the five countries agreed to introduce strict standards to ensure cleaner, low sulfur diesel fuels and vehicles emissions standards, effectively cutting off Europe’s West Africa market to export its dirty fuels.

A September report by a Swiss campaign group Public Eye revealed how European companies were exploiting weak regulations in West Africa to sneak in fuels with sulfur levels up to 378 times higher than is permitted in Europe.

The report titled, “Dirty Diesel”, highlighted the pivotal role played by Swiss commodity trading companies in Africa’s fuel industry. On land or at sea, they mix a petrochemical cocktail from refinery products and other components known in the industry as “African quality”.

Air pollution

“It increases the amount of sulphur dioxide produced, so sulphur in fuel directly transforms but it also has a corrosive effect on cars and especially on the emission control technology in cars,” said Valentino Viredaz, one of the report’s authors.

“It will then increase the overall amount of air pollution, in terms of particulate matter, but also nitrogen oxide and many other pollutants. In addition, this ‘African quality’ fuel not only has a high sulphur content but also toxic substances such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – all substances that are shown to be very toxic for humans,” he added.

Public Eye described the issue as a “ticking time bomb” as cities grow across Africa and populations boom in major hubs including Nigeria’s Lagos and Ghana’s Accra.

UNEP head, Erik Solheim said in a statement that, “West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe … they are placing the health of their people first.”


“Air pollution is killing millions of people every year and we need to ensure that all countries urgently introduce cleaner fuels and vehicles to help reduce the shocking statistics,” Solheim said.


Deadly diseases


According to health experts, sulphur is responsible for deadly heart and lung diseases.


The five countries have also agreed to upgrade the operations of their national refineries – public and privately owned – to improve the quality of their fuel by 2020, UNEP said.


A combination of low-sulphur fuels and advanced vehicles emissions standards can reduce harmful emissions by up to 90 per cent, according to the UNEP.


Hopes are that the move will dramatically reduce carbon emissions, allowing more than 250 million people to breathe cleaner air, the UN agency said.


Outside of West Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Morocco have all increased fuel quality requirements in recent years.


But better quality drives up costs, and with many nations facing severe shortages in public finances, they are wary of angering people with higher pump prices, analysts say.

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