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Tehran citizens paying price for failure to address air pollution problem

Source: Mehr News Agency, Tehran; Photos of Tehran on Sunday by Davoud Ghahrdar, ISNA

Heavy smog brought Tehran to a standstill on Saturday, closing government offices, universities, and schools, and consequently disrupting citizens' plans, not to mention the adverse health effects of the situation.

It was not the first time that the metropolis of Tehran, which is the beating heart of the country's commercial and academic life, has been shut down due to air pollution, sending a bad image about Iran to the outside world.

Two years ago, the World Bank put the cost of air pollution in Tehran at about 3.3 billion dollars. Obviously, the cost has increased since then as air pollution has been getting worse from year to year.

Health Ministry official Hassan Aghajani said on a television program late on Saturday that 4,460 people died due to air pollution in Tehran during the last Iranian calendar year (March 2011-March 2012).

Yet, there seems to be no will to address the root causes of the problem.

The Environmental Protection Organization, auto companies, the Oil Ministry, and the entire government are all responsible for air pollution, to varying degrees.

Some experts and officials say the low quality of the gasoline and diesel fuel that is used is responsible for the heavy smog in Tehran. The fact that some other big cities, like Isfahan, Mashhad, Arak, Karaj, Qom, Tabriz, and Ahvaz, are facing more or less a similar situation backs up this view.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Organization has not properly enforced environmental regulations. A glance at the record of the organization over the past few years provides sufficient evidence to prove this. And there has been lax observance of the regulations by ministries and auto companies, whose actions directly or indirectly affect the environment.

Iran's auto companies -- which enjoy the unquestionable support of the Ministry of Industries, Mines, and Trade -- continue to produce cars that are not fuel efficient. More importantly, experts say, the combustion system of these domestically produced cars is faulty.

Tehran Air Quality and Control Company Managing Director Yousef Rashidi recently told the newspaper Etemad that cars account for 70 to 80 percent of the air pollution in Tehran. However, he says the cars' combustion system is the main culprit in the air pollution problem and not low quality gasoline.

The auto companies do not even install catalytic converters, which clean up emissions, in their cars. This is the least thing that auto companies must be forced to do.

Big cities have also turned into a battleground for motorcycles, which experts say cause more pollution than cars. And it seems there is no limit to the number of motorcycles that will hit the streets in the future, especially in big cities like Tehran.

In addition, despite a parliamentary ratification, the administration has refused to release two billion dollars from the National Development Fund for the expansion of the Tehran Metro and the construction of subways in other big cities, in line with the plan for the development of the public transportation system.

All this shows that there is no strong determination on the part of officials to reduce air pollution, and the citizens will continue to pay the price for this negligence.


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