Toxic fuel dominating the Kurdistan Region’s markets put citizens’ health in jeopardy
PEREGRAF– Farman Sadiq
Fuel sold and used in the Kurdistan Region produces toxins that pollute the environment and the climate, they are also considered to be one of the causes of cancer and many other life-threatening diseases.
A number of Kurdistan Region’s parliamentarians, including experts in chemistry have warned of the harmfulness of fuel due to the mixture of several substances that puts citizens’ health in jeopardy yet the government has neglected to address it.
Some types of fuel that are produced locally, especially those brought into the market from illegal refineries are the most harmful, in addition to other types imported from other countries such as Iran, the types which its components are changed at the Region’s borders, are a threat to public health.
"A group of unauthorized fields that are not under any supervision, mix many toxic substances with gas and gasoline, especially the fuel used for the generators in the neighborhoods," Ali Hama-Salih, a Kurdish MP told PEREGRAF.
Hama Salih has been investigating and warning publicly of the harmfulness of fuel in the Kurdistan Region for years, his cries have been ignored by the government. He revealed the fields in which good quality fuel is mixed with other chemicals are in Duhok’s Kashi area, Tanjaro in Sulaimaniyah and many other places in the capital, Erbil.
The MP supports his claims with the detailed and thorough investigation with chemistry experts. He believes the situation has reached a dangerous level in the unlicensed fields and refineries. "The lives of all Kurdistan [Region’s] citizens have been sacrificed for a black business," he says.
In the Kurdistan region, especially in the provinces of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, there are many small and illegal refineries.
Apart from their harmful products, the refineries themselves have caused environmental pollution, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) itself, which has become a source of "dangerous diseases." Despite several resolutions to close them, some are still operating.
Sangar Salih, head of the Chemistry Department at Salahaddin University’s College of Sciences, spoke in more detail about the dangers of fuel. He believes that what is sold in the Kurdistan Region for gasoline, is not really gasoline and that its effects will show up in the next few years.
"The chemicals mixed with gasoline are the cause of many widespread diseases such as kidney and liver diseases, in addition to headaches and depression. Inhaling any of these chemicals will cause many other diseases in humans."
Those who mix those harmful chemicals with fuel are not doing it scientifically, what is more dangerous than that is the fuel leakage at the storages that pollute groundwater, explains Salih.
Bad gasoline and diesel have direct effects on cars which has led to protests
"A strange smell was coming from my car's exhaust, the smell would make you dizzy, I put a tissue in front of the exhaust I immediately saw small black spots, which shows what is sold in the petrol stations I can for sure say is not gasoline," Ismail Khdir, a taxi driver in Erbil, told PEREGRAF.
Khdir talked about one of his trips to Kalar district, saying that the car shut down several times on the way, even changing the fuel pumps was useless. When he opened his fuel tank, "the color of the gasoline was green and was mixed with water, and there was one liter of black liquid at the bottom of the tank."
There are more than 1.8 million large and small cars in the Kurdistan Region, according to data provided by the Region's General Directorate of Traffic to PEREGRAF.
Hama Salih, who is also chair of the Energy, Natural Resources, Commerce and Industry committee, says the fuel produced in Kurdistan from the crude oil of Syria, Ainzala, Mahmudiya and Juzairan, is mixed with a type of oil that is partly wax produced in unlicensed refinery, its sulfur reaches to 25,000 PPM.
He further explained when the brown oil is mixed with white petroleum, it produces brown gas, which is then mixed with the acid and caustic (SODA) in the fields, its color becomes yellow and its silver reaches 25,000 (PPM).
"When that type of gas is burned, a lot of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide (SO2, H2S, CO2) are put into the environment."
Hama Salih said gasoline is and also some chemical substances are unscientifically mixed by unqualified people in petrochemicals, and mix condensate with the fuel to increase the octane, which will create harmful gasoline.
"Each of the Tholin, C2H5, MTBE, PB(C2H4)2, reformate, ethanol, methanol and aromatics chemicals, which are not permitted substances, are mixed with gasoline," he said.
The chair of the Natural Resources Committee says that the spread of these toxins are definitely one of the reasons for the widespread harmful diseases, including cancer, especially heart cancer, and failure in the respiratory system, parturition, the body's immune system, blood pressure and many others.
Which chemicals are mixed with fuel that are detrimental to health?
Dr. Ismail Ahmed, director of Erbil's Nanakali Hospital for cancer, told PEREGRAF that there is no local or international research on whether gasoline or the substances used here in the Kurdistan Region are one of the causes of cancer.
"As a doctor and the hospital [representative], we don't have any scientific evidence to prove that those who are admitted to Nanakali Hospital and have cancer have been caused by gasoline."
"This issue needs research, a study that monitors a number of patients for a few years, and then it will be clear," said Dr. Ismail.
Scientific researches however, have shown pollution of the environment and climate is a major cause of cancer diseases.
According to statistics from the KRG’s health ministry, close to 6,300 cancer patients were registered in 2020, more than half of them women.
The Chemistry Department head, Salih said they inspected the regular, mid-grade and super fuel in the market, "we realized that most gas stations mix other chemicals with gasoline, most of which are toxic chemicals and cause cancer."
Those chemicals include toluene, benzene, tetraethyllead, ethanol or methanol, NTBI which raise fuel octane and environmental pollution with it.
Salih spoke of the harms of toluene that harm human skin and eyes, sleeping difficulties have also been attributed to the chemical.
According to research centers in the United States the gasoline used in the Kurdistan Region is a mix of some chemicals, one of the causes for the increase in cancer.
Sangar Salih added the substances of Methanol and Ethanol are the causes of depression, vomiting, and headaches, "All the materials mixed with gasoline contain a lot of sulfur are harmful to the environment and emit some of the most harmful gases from vehicles, which are carbon oxides, NO2 and SO3, which produce acid rain … and will eventually affect farmers' products" as it harms the soil.
This comes at a time when the government has an investigation committee for quality assurance, but they are not available for comment regarding their efforts to the media except for some specific media outlets. PEREGRAF has reached out many times for comments, but there was no response.
Salih says most of the fuel available have passed the natural resources ministry’s test because the fuel brought for testing are not the same sold to citizens at the stations.
"Some petrol stations may sell good quality fuel, such as those imported from Kazakhstan, Europe or Turkey to the Kurdistan Region, but other types imported from Iran are mixed with other chemicals."
The bad quality fuel and its harms are no longer a secret, not only to parliamentarians, but to everyone else as well.
Sarbaz Mala Kareem, owner of the Pola company for fuel trade, confirms that all the fuel, especially kerosene, brought into the market in Erbil will be mixed with other chemicals because if they are not, the prices will rise, and that is not in the interest of drivers and businessmen.
"Let's say some businessmen don't mix other chemicals with the fuel, what about the others? Even if one businessman does so, its price in the market will be less and there will be demand for it, so looking for cheap prices is one of the reasons other chemicals are used."
Karim says, it's a matter of competition in the market where people care more for prices rather than quality. "The petrol stations that take their fuel to the quality assurance are not the same as the type they sell, but they take the clean fuel and sell a mixed petrol, which everyone knows and it is not any new or hidden information."