By David Alire Garcia
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Dirty fuel oil widely used to generate electricity in Mexico should be completely banned, Mexican scientist Mario Molina said, citing its high sulfur content as a danger to both human health and the earth's atmosphere.
The oil, a byproduct of the refining process, is especially prevalent in Mexico due to the inability of its aging refineries to efficiently process the country's heavy crude.
"Fuel oil should be banned," said Molina in an interview last week. "Crude oil is obsolete, and even more so fuel oil, which also has very serious problems related to air contamination."
Molina is a co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role in revealing threats to the planet's protective ozone layer from freons, commonly found in spray cans and refrigerants.
A Reuters investigation published earlier this week showed that one of Mexico's largest power plants, operated by state-owned electricity company Comision Federal de Electricidad, or CFE, almost exclusively burned fuel oil from 2016-2019 in violation of maximum sulfur limits set by law.
Emissions from the Tula thermoelectric plant, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Mexico City, showed it was one of North America's most polluting power plants.
Molina said it was "very worrying" that the plant's emissions can reach the sprawling capital of more than 20 million inhabitants.
He criticized the broader energy agenda of leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in late 2018 pledging to boost crude output and prioritize the construction of what would be the country's largest oil refinery.
"Mexico is going backwards, back to the previous century or the one before, at a time when all the experts on the planet are in total agreement that we're in a climate crisis," Molina said.
Lopez Obrador's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Richard Chang)
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