“Dirty Diesel” – How Swiss Traders Flood Africa with Toxic Fuels

Swiss commodity trading companies like Trafigura are systematically exploiting the weak standards in African countries: They are flooding local markets with dirty fuels they would never be allowed to market in Europe – with disastrous consequences for human health.

Air pollution in Africa: a ticking time bomb

Africa’s large cities are growing rapidly. The continent’s urban population is expected to triple by 2050. More people means more cars. And more cars mean more exhaust, more air pollution, and more disease.

Air pollution in African cities is already a serious public health issue. Air quality in Dakar or Lagos is worse than in Beijing, China; the city that regularly makes headlines because of its smog. According to a current WHO-study, the air in the Nigerian city of Onitsha is more polluted than that of any other city in the world. Car emissions are one of the main sources of harmful particulate matter in the air, causing asthma and bronchitis, heart disease and cancer.

Particulate air pollution (in selected Asian, African and European cities):

Even though significantly more cars circulate in Paris or London than in Dakar or Lagos, the air quality in these African cities is much worse. How come?
The Reason why cars pollute the air in Africa so much more than elsewhere is the dirty fuel they burn. One of the main sources of particulate matter in the exhaust generated by gasoline or diesel is sulphur. Sulphur also destroys catalytic converters and particle filters that reduce emissions in modern vehicles. For this very reason, the sulphur content of fuel is strictly limited to a low level in Europe and North America. With obvious success: toxic emissions have dropped dramatically.

The situation in many African countries is a very different one: There, sulphur limits are still several hundred-fold higher than in Europe. Our research shows that the sulphur content of fuels sold in African countries is up to 378 times higher than the European limit.


Unless something is done, an estimated 31,000 people will die prematurely and countless others will be chronically ill from traffic-related air pollution in Africa in 2030. That equals three times the number of deaths from traffic-related air pollution in Europe, the US and Japan combined. In 2050, more stringent standards for gasoline and diesel could save an estimated 100,000 people from premature death. It’s time to take action!

This will lead to traffic-related mortality that is triple the rate of Europe, the US and Japan combined.

African governments must lower sulphur limits to the European level. However, the responsibility is not theirs alone: the companies involved in the business of dirty fuel – or „African quality fuel“ as the industry has come to call it – profit handsomely at the expense of African people’s health!

Research conducted by Public Eye has brought to light a previously little known business model. Our report „Dirty Diesel“ reveals for the first time how commodity trading companies systematically exploit the lax African standards to optimize their profit margins with toxic fuels – to the detriment of the health of people in Africa. The report also shows that many of the main culprits are domiciled in a country that loves to market its cleanliness and especially its clean air: Switzerland. Swiss commodity trading companies dominate the dirty business with „African quality” fuels for West Africa.

Find out how this illegitimate business model works.

© Photography: Fabian Biasio, 2016
© Photography: Carl De Keyzer, Magnum, 2016

End the dirty fuel business now.