The smell of Hades


A few years ago, Hugo Chávez famously claimed that George W. Bush had left the podium of the UN “reeking of sulphur.”

He should know about that. Turns out, Venezuela ranks 99 out of 100 countries in terms of sulphur content in its gasoline. The maximum allowable sulfur dioxide content in our gasoline is 1,000 ppm. For comparison, Cameroon allows 500 ppm maximum. In Germany, the maximum amount is 10.

Sulphur and lead in gasoline (which some people have linked to higher crime rates) are really, really bad for you. Sulphur dioxide, in particular, is thought to be a clastogenic and genotoxic agent, i.e., it changes your chromosomes. Here’s the money quote from this web page:

Exposure to 100 parts of sulfur dioxide per million parts of air (ppm) is considered immediately dangerous to life and health. Previously healthy nonsmoking miners who breathed sulfur dioxide released as a result of an explosion in an underground copper mine developed burning of the nose and throat, breathing difficulties, and severe airway obstructions. Long-term exposure to persistent levels of sulfur dioxide can also affect your health. Lung function changes have been observed in some workers exposed to 0.4–3.0 ppm sulfur dioxide for 20 years or more. However, these workers were also exposed to other chemicals, making it difficult to attribute their health effects to sulfur dioxide exposure alone. Additionally, exercising asthmatics are sensitive to the respiratory effects of low concentrations (0.25 ppm) of sulfur dioxide.

Chávez’s Caracas truly is hell on Earth.

(HT: bogotabiketours)

#41 … back in the saddle.

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  1. The diesel is even worse. And the fuel oil, heavily used in power plants, is as much as 3% sulfur. That’s 30,000 parts per million, with the plume drifting out of the power plant near Caracas and on, over Valencia.

      • I noticed when Honduras signed on with Petrocaribe the first time, mileage in most cars immediately dropped and a sickly smell sort of like a cross between rotten eggs and buffalo farts would come out the tailpipe. No joke. I can only hazard a guess at the amount of sulfur in the fuel Venezuela practically gives away at cost. And yes, setty, the diesel is much worse.

  2. Technical standards for gasoline in Venezuela are probably still based on the 1999 (or previous) US regulations standards, in which a maximum of 1000ppm of sulphur was allowed (although, the US average back then was around 340ppm).

    More than the health issue, the drawback of gasoline with a high sulphur content is that it prevents the use of lean-burn technologies in engines. These fuel-saving engines are about 15% more fuel-efficient than normal engines. However, lean-burn operation results in higher combustion temperatures, which results in the engine producing more nitrogen oxides (NOx), a major cause of smog and acid rain. Current high-efficiency catalytic converters can remove that excess NOx, but not if there is too much sulphur in the gasoline. The less there is, the less NOx is discharged through the exhaust.

  3. Chavez did finally remove the lead from gasoline, but many years after other countries in the region had done so.

    Chavez’s priorities are clear: buying support, at the expense of health, the environment and economic rationality.


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