The research found that average official diesels sampled contained sulphur concentrations of 2,044 ppm (parts per million) — over 204x the limits the European Union (EU) sets as safe, compared to 1,523 ppm in the average unofficial diesels sampled, still over 152x the EU's limit. Fuel quality tests should be carried out nationwide immediately to explore the extent of poor fuel distribution. Improved standards for fuel quality were approved in Nigeria by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria in 2017, but enforcement is evidently weak to non-existent by responsible agencies.
The use of official or unofficial fuels is worsening already heavily polluted environments, serious health impacts, and costs of fixing the damage to engines and generators these fuels cause. Emissions modelling estimates that official and unofficial fuel production and use is responsible for 50% of Port Harcourt city's air pollution, which is plagued by a soot problem. The Niger Delta already suffers environmental, health, and livelihood impacts from decades of oil spill pollution, associated gas flaring, and artisanal refining. This research indicates that the Niger Delta not only experiences the repercussions of producing crude oil and unofficial refined fuels, but also in the consumption of dirty official and unofficial fuels.
This is even more concerning at a time when Nigeria is facing an outbreak of the Coronavirus COVID-19. High levels of air pollution and pre-existing respiratory and other health conditions may increase the risk that COVID-19 poses to the health of the population of the Niger Delta, where the majority of unofficial fuels are produced, and more widely in Nigeria where low quality fuels are also consumed.
Already, the World Bank reports that 94% of the population of Nigeria is exposed to air pollution that exceeds WHO guidelines, with Aba, Umuahia, Onitsha, and Kaduna designated as four of the worst air-polluted cities in the world. This will continue to worsen without action on regulation.
As the issue has reached a severe point, and with the outbreak of Covid-19, there must be no further delay in raising and enforcing existing standards across the supply chain, and for all responsible stakeholders to be held to account.
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