Toxic Smog Puts Tehran on Alert
EghtesadOnline: Outdoor physical exercises in all school grades have been cancelled until Friday (Nov. 15), as the sprawling city experienced its seventh consecutive day of dangerously high air pollution levels.
In an emergency meeting held on Sunday, the Air Pollution Emergency Committee announced that if the air quality deteriorates further in the following days, schools will be totally closed to minimize children's outdoor exposure, Tasnim News Agency reported.
When air pollution hits an emergency level, representatives from Tehran City Council, Traffic Police, Tehran Municipality and Department of Environment, along with those of interior and health ministries, convene the committee to tackle the phenomenon.
The density of toxic pollutants has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the current Iranian month (Oct. 23), reaching levels considered dangerous for vulnerable citizens, including children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, who are referred to as sensitive group, according to Financial Tribune.
To encourage private vehicle users to switch to public transport, Mohammad Taqizadeh, the committee chief, said bus and subway fares in the metropolis has been slashed by half until further notice.
He also announced that to reduce traffic in the central parts of the capital, cars entering the zone demarcated by Air Pollution Control scheme has been increased by 50%.
As per the scheme, each vehicle can enter a "restricted zone" in central Tehran for free for a maximum of 20 days each season, or 80 days a year. If motorists wish to enter the zone more than the number of times allowed in the plan, they need to pay a traffic toll fee.
Spread over 88.5 square kilometers in central Tehran, the zone is bounded by Imam Ali Expressway in the east, Navvab Expressway and Chamran Highway to the west, Besat Expressway in the south and Hemmat Expressway in the north.
Vehicles are barred from entering the area between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on all days, except Fridays and national holidays. On Thursdays, the time limit is between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
So far, these measures have more or less failed to deliver. A wiser and long-term solution is required to curb the chronic air pollution in the metropolis.
Where Things Stand
According to the regular charts published by Tehran Air Quality Control Company, the first half of the month passed with the Air Quality Index hovering along the threshold of "moderate" quality, which is between 50 and 101.
Since Nov. 5, with the density of pollutants increasing, AQI increased and gained an "unhealthy" status for the sensitive group, reaching its highest (125) on Friday.
Based on a number of polluting factors, the index categorizes conditions into good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301-500).
Pollutants measured to determine air quality include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). AQI figures are calculated as per the concentration of pollutants.
Studies illustrate that the pollutant responsible for the six unhealthy days recorded in the period under investigation was PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matters that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers).
TAQCC data illustrate that air quality condition was significantly better during the same period of last year. From Oct. 23 to Nov. 11, 2018, AQI showed three days of "good", 16 days of "moderate" and only one day with "unhealthy" status for the sensitive group.
Abbas Shahsavani, an official with the Health Ministry, warned the vulnerable citizens from undertaking outdoor activities until air quality improves.
He strongly recommended using special filtered masks that block PM2.5 particles from entering the respiratory system if they are used properly.
Environmentalists and experts blame the worsening air pollution on the drawbacks of the Air Pollution Control scheme, which is currently underway in the Iranian capital.
After prolonged debates over the issue, Tehran Police have urged urban managers to revise the plan.
Proposed by Tehran Municipality's Transportation Council after environmentalists and urban planners held talks, the APC scheme was launched on June 22 to curb traffic and air pollution.
In the last couple of months, Tehran City Council and Traffic Police scrutinized the scheme’s performance and highlighted drawbacks that negatively affect air quality and public transportation.
Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi said the consistency of problems listed by both the city council and the traffic police illustrates lack of sufficient preliminary studies in the implementation of APC.
"The weak points of the scheme have been communicated via an unofficial letter to TM, calling for urgent modifications. Otherwise, the police will further take action," Rahimi said, without elaborating further.
The modifications can take effect after the city council’s verification.
The long duration of daily time limit, no maximum limit for cars entering the scheme area each day and increased traffic jam are among APC’s flaws highlighted in the letter.
In addition, lack of efficient public means of transportation as an alternative to private cars is another challenging issue that increases the likelihood of commuters taking rides with motorbikes instead of taxis. This will end up increasing the number of low-quality and smog-inducing motorcycles which, according to the traffic police, are five times more polluting than passenger cars of the same age.
At present, urban managers refuse to accept APC’s shortcomings and blame temperature inversion for the worrying air pollution choking Tehran these days.
Every year with the onset of the cold season, temperature inversion occurs during which cold air underpins warm air at higher altitude, leading to the entrapment of air pollutants in the city, which causes heavy smog.