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Iraqi refiners say pollution cost of U.N. sanctions is 'astronomical' - News & Observer. Copyright © 1998 Nando.net Copyright © 1998 Reuters News Service -------------------------------------------------------- BAIJI, Iraq (April 27, 1998 09:55 a.m. EDT) - Iraq's refiners say that their oil refineries, hit by U.N. sanctions, are in dire need of equipment and spare parts essential for processing industrial waste polluting the environment. "We have 600 cubic meters an hour of industrial waste from the production units ... This is an astronomical figure," said Ali Hamid, Director General of the 400,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) North Refineries Enterprise at Baiji. "Where do you go with all this waste? ... This is pollution and it is very dangerous," Hamid told reporters at the sprawling complex 138 miles north of Baghdad, the largest of Iraq's three state-run oil refining enterprises. "We need new spare parts and equipment. Whole units need to be renewed ... This is the state of Iraqis now," he added. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed allowing Iraq to spend $300 million to repair its dilapidated oil industry, including $90 million for the downstream refining sector. But Hamid said a report by oil experts used as the basis for Annan's plan did not take account of pollution. He said the experts who visited Iraq last month to assess damage to the oil industry did not take into consideration what he called the urgent need to stop environmental damage. The team concentrated on Iraq's crude oil production and export ability to meet an expanded U.N. "oil-for-food" deal, Hamid said. All Iraqi refineries were hit during the 1990-91 Gulf War. All have been rehabilitated using locally made materials, but essential units that were completely destroyed are yet to be replaced. "Six cruise missiles hit us all at the same time, hitting our complex equipment. Then this was followed by ferocious aerial bombing which kept the fires at the refinery raging for three months," Hamid said. He said before the U.N. sanctions imposed in 1990, four waste-processing units at the Baiji complex isolated poisonous chemical by-products and dealt with them by using waste-eating bacteria. But they were knocked out in the war, leaving the only alternative to dump the most hazardous waste into depleted wells, he said. Improvising on chemical processing, a nine-mile canal was also dug to let the sun's rays evaporate some of the waste, he said. Air pollution from gases like hydrogen sulfide (H2S) also posed a threat to the environment and rendered the refining complex dangerous for the workers. "Sometimes here you can smell the H2S gas, which is poisonous," he said. "We used to have units that controlled it." Iraqi refiners argue that lack of spare parts and sufficient additives to upgrade oil products due to the U.N. embargo has left the fuel produced by their plants far below acceptable environmental standards. "Environment pollution is not our top priority now," "For Iraqi gasoline, the octane number used to be 92 now it is 81 ... For lubricating oils for modern cars we're still below international specifications," said a senior engineer at the country's second largest refinery, the 100,000-bpd Doura refinery at the outskirts of Baghdad. Like Baiji, the refinery was also heavily bombed in the Gulf War, including direct hits by cruise missiles, but was rehabilitated within one year. Octane is a measure of the way fuel performs in an engine. The most widely traded grade in Europe is 95 octane while the United States typically trades 87 and 92. "The kerosene in Iraq used to be better than from neighboring Arab countries," Doura general manager Kamil al-Fatli told Reuters. Additives used now, such as tetraethyl lead, are poisonous when used for domestic heating, he continued. Iraqi diesel was also way below European specifications. At Baiji, Hamid said damage to the complex's sulfur retrieval unit left fuel oil with up to five percent sulfur content, way below acceptable standards. But he said quality problems could be solved easily were the embargo to be lifted. "If the cracker works, we can produce the best types of gas oil of zero sulfur content, but it was destroyed in the aggression (Gulf War)," he added. The cracking process in a refinery breaks feedstock down into heavier and lighter types of fuel. By Haitham Haddadin, Reuters