High sulphur content in bitumen poses risks

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the average sulphur concentration in crude oil is on the rise. The IEA expects 70% of oil reserves to contain higher sulphur concentrations (Duissenov, 2013). As a result, bitumen also contains a high concentration of sulphur (hydrogen). Although the industry has taken initiatives to desulphurise various oil products, this has not yet been done for bitumen. High concentrations of hydrogen sulphide, which could even be fatal, are regularly found in bitumen.

Daan van Wieringen, safety manager at Tauw Group, has written a whitepaper on the subject: ‘The fatal smell of bitumen’. He observed that although European standards have led to a drastic drop in sulphur content in fuels, this does not yet seem to be the case for bitumen. The H2S concentrations measured in road tankers are at a level that poses considerable risks for people working in the chain.

“If safety comes first, this should also apply to the safety we pass on in the chain”, says Daan. “I call on those involved - bitumen manufacturers, hauliers, asphalt plants and bitumen processing facilities - to better address, and further control, the risks of hydrogen sulphide in bitumen.”

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