Benzene, sulfur and manganese: these harmful substances are contained in petrol that has been exported by Dutch companies to African countries for years. And the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) must put an end to this as soon as possible.
Because, according to the inspectorate, the consequences are serious. Benzene is carcinogenic, sulfur leads to extra particulate matter and the combination of manganese and sulfur destroys a car’s catalytic converter. And that in turn leads to additional emissions of other hazardous substances.
Thursday TNO research institute published a report which, according to the Inspectorate, shows that “the population is thus extra and unnecessarily exposed to increased levels of carcinogenic benzene, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter”. This has long been banned in the Netherlands, but according to the Inspectorate, fuel manufacturers make maximum use of the lower safety standards in some African countries. “The boundaries are being explored.” The ILT inspection service, supervisor of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, calls the findings published on Thursday “worrying”.
The substances used provide a higher octane rating and are cheaper than the substances that must be used in Europe and in any case must not be present in fuel in that concentration. According to TNO, good quality fuel is “critical to protect people’s health and the environment”. And that importance is independent of the age of a vehicle, the technology or the level of maintenance.
It concerns eight Dutch oil and chemical companies that are not mentioned by name, but in practice it concerns the entire sector of oil producers, refiners and traders. The Inspectorate believes that the policy must change in the short term, otherwise penalties will follow. Companies in the Netherlands are then only allowed to export fuels, also to countries outside the European Union, which meet all European requirements.
Oil producers deliberately use lower safety standards in Africa
In a response, trade association VNPI says it would welcome countries with stricter fuel standards. “Then the market demand for fuels with more environmentally harmful components will disappear.” The oil industry wants to know from the ILT “when they believe that we fall short in our duty of care and when not.”
Now that TNO has clearly proven the harmful effects, the Inspectorate says it can hold companies in the Netherlands accountable for their duty of care. This obligation is legally enshrined in Dutch law. If a company suspects that its product is dangerous to people or the environment, everything possible must be done to eliminate or at least limit those risks.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 25, 2021