EghtesadOnline: Energy companies in Asalouyeh, Bushehr Province, which store sulfur in open-air conditions have two months to build roofed warehouses and handle hazardous chemicals in enclosed areas, the provincial chief prosecutor said.
“Those who fail to comply will be fined and their permits will be suspended indefinitely,” Mohammad Khedri was quoted as saying by ISNA.
Moving sulfur from refineries to unroofed warehouses and keeping it in the open are said to be among the worst polluting sources in southern regions. It has contaminated the air and soil, Khedri said.
Criticizing the lack of stringent and mandatory regulations in the past for such industries, he said, “Energy companies should have constructed roofed warehouses long ago.”
Sulfur in huge quantities is produced, stored, melted and used in Bushehr Province most of which is transported in bulk by road. The chemical is often stored in the open at terminals to be loaded on ships, trains and trucks or at plant sites to be melted and used in the production of sulfuric acid. Most sulfur stocks are in the open where it is exposed to wind, rain, dust and salt air.
The provincial office of the Department of Environment (DoE) has reportedly filed lawsuits against the firms not complying with environmental norms, but in some cases the verdicts were overturned in appeal courts.
“Challenging [state] oil companies over ecological concerns is not easy as they have power and clout,” the senior judiciary official said without elaboration.
Of No Great Concern
According to Farhad Qolinezhad, the provincial DOE head, meetings have been held with petrochemical firms in Bushehr, the home to Iran’s first nuclear power plant. They have been given specific guidelines on how to store and transport polluting chemicals. However, problems linger as environmental issues are not among the immediate priorities for energy firms.
Qolinezhad said challenging oil companies and other major industries (supported by powerful lobbies and vested interests) over ecological concerns has been an exercise in futility.
The DOE has often taken energy firms to court. “If they are found guilty for evading environmental norms, they are fined. They pay and the vicious cycle persisits.”
Bushehr’s DOE chief urged the media and environmentalists to help and do their share in helping protect the environment because the “DOE alone cannot do much.”
Sulfur, a brittle material, is easily spread in the air while loading, unloading, transportation and storage. It irritates the respiratory tract and increases the risk of tract infections. The toxic chemical causes coughing, mucus secretion and aggravates conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Highlighting the scale of environmental and human costs, he said a special committee has been set up to deal with the issues.
The situation in Bid Khun, a village in Asalouyeh, is so bad that residents cannot even donate blood. However, government officials in the region claim that this issue has nothing to do with pollution and blame malaria in the area.
“Heavy metals (lead, mercury and arsenic) have been traced in the urine of elementary school children, indicating exposure to high pollution.”
Known as a key industrial region, Asalouyeh is home to expansive gas production and processing facilities of South Pars, the world's largest gas field.