Bad fuel burns drivers

With soaring fuel prices setting new record highs, Greek drivers are being forced to pay more for the commonly sold, adulterated gasoline that produces health-threatening fumes, according to data released yesterday. The Panhellenic Association of Chemical Engineers said about 7 percent of the gasoline on the market in Athens during 2003-2004 was tampered, while another 12 percent being sold was diluted diesel. The price of regular gasoline has jumped more than 20 percent since last year. To cut costs, some 40 percent of professional drivers are using cheaper heating oil in their diesel-powered vehicles. The mixing of diesel with gasoline creates fumes containing dangerous particles that can cause heart and breathing problems or, in extreme cases, even death. The environment, specifically air quality, is also damaged by this practice, the engineers said. The low-quality energy source actually costs drivers more, since cars using diluted fuel need more frequent repairs, the engineers’ group said. The practice also hurts the government’s pocketbook. The booming trade in illegal fuel costs 2 billion euros annually in lost tax revenues. Greece employs 2,500 people in its fight against illegal fuel trade and is examining how better to combat the scourge. The government also said Monday it intends to raise the tax applicable to heating fuel, a move aimed at reducing its appeal as a low-cost fuel source. From February 2003 until now, the Development Ministry has imposed fines of 4.5 million euros on 82 petrol stations in Athens and Thessaloniki for trading illicitly in fuel. But so far, these measures have proved ineffective. Rising fuel prices on international markets this week have worried government officials, who say they will put a lid on gasoline prices if necessary. The Development Ministry also asked the Competitions Committee yesterday to investigate cases in which petrol companies are selling fuel to distributors at high prices – in effect dictating the gasoline’s resale price.

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