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Air Pollution in Iran: Health Risks under Gray Skies

Submitted by on March 28, 2013 – 11:06 PM

744969093When I got out of the cab, it was extremely chilly and I could not see anything. “It’s probably the fog”, I thought to myself. Soon however, I realized it was not just mere fog; I was engulfed by smog all around me and could hardly breathe the intoxicated air. A new message on my cell phone read, “The whole of Tehran will observe a complete shut down for 3 days because of the dangerous levels of smog.”


“Schools, universities and state offices are closed in 5 cities due to air pollution, leading to a loss of around 65$ million on a daily basis”, a member of Iranian parliament declared on 5th December, 2012. Iran is rated as one of the most polluted countries in the world. According to a current survey, the city of Ahvaz in Iran is the most polluted city in the world. According to the latest Climate change performance index (CCPI ) 2012 by German Watch Organization, Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia occupy the lowest 3 positions.


Iran’s position dropped by 8 ranks in 2012 as compared to its CCPI rank in 2011. In this new list China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Korea and Kazakhstan have been reported to have the worst emission trends measured over the last five years. Due to the hike in oil and gas prices, coal enjoys a competitive advantage over the two former widely used fuels. As a consequence of which, the increase in coal utilization seems to be a major culprit behind the massive rise in global absolute emissions.


Factual analysis reveals some major causes of air pollution in Iran which are worth mentioning here:

1. An estimated 4 million automobiles sprawl the metropolitan city of Tehran alone and are culpable for 80 percent of the pollution. This year, Iran’s gasoline consumption has increased by 3 million liters as compared  to last year’s average, reaching to a daily average of 63 million liters.

2. Lack of management and insufficient public transportation have also aided in  intensifying  air pollution.

3. The factories located in the suburbs, outside the city of Tehran have further boosted the clouds of smoke. Tehran authorities were recently forced to temporarily shut down 40 industrial facilities, including Cement and tar production plants due to the alarming level of air pollution. However ,the deputy head of  Transportation and Traffic Organization of Tehran Municipality, does not accept the closure of Tehran’s industries as a useful approach and expects the concerned officials to take a more intelligent action rather than deciding on the easiest possible solution.

4. Tehran’s geographical location is a significant contributor to the smog encompassing the city. It is surrounded by the famous Alborz mountain ranges on three sides, as a result of which polluted air is trapped and cannot escape.


In South Asia, air pollution has been ranked among the top 10 killers, just below blood pressure, tobacco smoking and diabetes. It is scary as outdoor air pollution is a threat to everyone. The  Global Burden of disease (GBD ) findings have approximated over 2.1 million premature deaths and the loss of 52 million years of healthy life in 2010 due to the escalating  air pollution in Asia; this is two-thirds of the world wide burden. Air pollution also contributes to 1.2 million deaths in East Asia, which is in the throes of high level of economic growth and motorization.


An Iranian health ministry official said that air pollution in Tehran has claimed 4,460 lives in a year-long period since March 2011. The story does not end here. Air pollution is not just a threat for the Asian community, it is a global predicament that has enveloped the developed world as well. A London Assembly paper by the Health and Environment Committee reports that 9 percent of deaths in London are attributable to man-made airborne particles. A 2008 study estimated over 4.267 extra deaths each year in London from inebriated air particulates.


Breast cancer, respiratory problems and diabetes have been strongly associated with this current pollution crises, posing further risks to the population at large. Air pollution creates both long-and short-term effects on the health of humans. Individuals with existing medical conditions often fare worse from breathing in polluted air. People with Asthma, Respiratory and Heart disease experience more significant reactions to air pollution.


The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that while exercising outdoors, the body usually requires deeper and faster breathing, which causes the lungs to inhale greater amounts of toxins in the thick polluted air. So exercising outdoors is no longer healthy. A study published in a health journal in June 2012 further added to what can truly be called the snow-ball effect of air pollution hazards. It found a strong coherence between exposure to Carbon monoxide and low birth weight infants born to mothers exposed to air pollution, particularly during the second trimester of pregnancy.


Here is some good news too amidst all the misery: The Department of Environment of Iran announced a decline in the emission of Carbon monoxide and Nitrogen dioxide (starting from  March 20,2013) compared with that of last year, showing that Iranians have experienced a cleaner weather this year. Moreover, every individual can help overcome this problem by using public transportation more frequently and thus reducing the number of cars on the streets. Hopefully, we might be lucky enough in the years to come until one day Iranians will again experience a clear blue sky to enjoy a more healthy life.



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