Lintec Testing Services has warned that ongoing fuel contamination with chemical waste poses a potential risk to the health
of ships' crews and the operation of vessels. The chemical in question,
styrene monomer is a chemical commodity. It is frequently present in trace amounts in fuel due to problems encountered at refineries and chemical
plants. However, a recent fuel stem in Rotterdam contained styrene
contamination at a concentration of 4,000 ppm, many times the level at which
Lintec considers to be acceptable.
"One of our clients had to debunker several thousand tonnes of fuel because
we discovered high levels of styrene during routine screening," says Lintec
managing director John Dixon. "Over the last three months we have seen a
number of fuel stems with high styrene content, some in the 2,000 to 4,000
ppm range. Results from our chemical screening database indicate that
approximately 40% of samples tested contained some trace of styrene with
over 20% having more than 100 ppm styrene concentration. There is no
acceptable limit, but we consider that action needs to be taken to control
this type of contamination."
According to Dixon, the contamination is ongoing, and Lintec is now
co-operating with an oil major and several independent suppliers to isolate
the source of the problem.
"Waste chemical contamination in bunkers raises three problems," explains
Dixon. "Firstly, you are paying for fuel but getting waste material, and in
this debunkering case our client got many tonnes of waste when he paid for
fuel. Secondly, there is the health and safety issue. No shipowner
knowingly puts their crews at risk from inhaling chemical vapours. Finally,
there is the issue we usually hear about which is whether or not the fuel
will damage the engine. Well, we don't think styrene monomer does that but
under some circumstances it can polymerise and cause fuel filter clogging.
But there is a big problem with health and safety and this contamination
needs to be controlled. Styrene should not be present in bunker fuels
because it poses a significant health risk.
The problem is most acute in Antwerp and Rotterdam, although we do see
styrene in fuels from Gibraltar, Houston and Singapore, but at much lower
Lintec's state-of-the-art Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS)
screening programme for detecting waste chemicals in bunker fuel was
launched as an add-on service to normal fuel testing last year. This
high-end analytical tool for bunker quality investigations offers an extra
layer of forensic protection on a routine basis, at very small cost.
The service gives Lintec's clients the benefit of an additional protective
edge. Section 4.1 of ISO 8217 requires that bunker fuel "should not contain
any additional substance or chemical waste which jeopardises the safety of
"The ISO standard refers to damaged engines, not damaged crews, and we
launched this thinking about engine damage," says Dixon. "But now we are
finding fuel that can put crews at risk, and several of our major liner
clients have put health and safety at the top of their priority list. Lintec
is the only fuel tester to routinely check marine fuel samples to meet the
criteria of Sec 4.1 of ISO 8217," Dixon says.
Lintec's GCMS programme tests for chemical contaminants before the fuel is
needed for burning. The key objective of the programme is to test fuel
samples for the presence of volatile waste chemicals which have been known
to cause severe engine damage or which pose a health risk.
"GCMS is a key investigative tool, considered by the environmental testing
industry to be a workhorse technique rather than one used for research and
development. There is no reason why the marine fuel testing industry should
not follow this example and monitor bunker fuels for the presence of
undesirable waste chemicals within the same timescale applied for other test
parameters," Dixon adds.