EghtesadOnline: While the Iranian capital has been suffocating under a blanket of smog that has refused to budge over the past seven days, urban managers seem to be content taking ineffectual measures in the hope of controlling the worsening condition.
In a meeting held on Friday, Air Pollution Emergency Committee announced universities and schools of all grades will be closed on Saturday to minimize their 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.
After the meeting, Mohammad Taqizadeh, an official with Tehran Governorate, who is also a member of the committee, told reporters that Tehran-based polluting industries, including cement and asphalt factories, have been ordered to halt operation until further notice, Financial Tribune reported.
"Heavy-duty vehicles are also prohibited from entering the capital city until the committee announces an update," he added.
Road Traffic Restrictions
As a complementary measure, an odd-even traffic plan, which had been discarded for being inefficient, will be applied throughout the capital city as an additional controlling measure, besides the two new traffic schemes currently underway, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Mehmandar, the chief of Tehran Road Traffic Police, said.
As per the odd-even rule, cars would be able to ply the streets on alternate days, depending on the odd and even numbers of the license plate.
"On Saturday, only cars with license plates ending with an even number will be allowed in Tehran," he added.
Air Pollution Control is another traffic scheme launched in Tehran in June. As per the APC scheme, each vehicle can enter a "restricted zone" for free for a maximum of 20 days each season (three months), or 80 days a year.
Spread over 88.5 square kilometers in central Tehran, the zone was bound 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.
Since November 2018, the traffic police have been strictly checking vehicles’ mandatory technical inspection documents under the Air Pollution Reduction scheme.
APR bans old cars not meeting minimum emission standards from wandering in the capital city and violators are subject to fines daily.
If motorists wish to enter the zone more than the number of times mentioned in the plan, they need to pay a toll.
"All the restrictions will be extended to the following days, if air quality does not improve," Mehmandar emphasized.
Air Quality Status
Data regularly published by Tehran Air Quality Control Company show that the levels of toxic pollutants in the city's air breached critical levels several times in November.
Charts published on TAQCC’s website, Airnow.tehran.ir, illustrate that in the month-long period, Tehran’s residents did not see the clear blue skies at all, as the air quality index did not fall under 50 during the month.
The index categorizes conditions dictated by a measure of polluting matters into good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301-500).
In 11 days, the AQI held on to the "moderate" status.
Besides, sensitive groups in the capital were warned to limit their outdoor activities in 18 days, as the index entered the threshold of 101-150 that categorizes the condition as “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.
Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions fall in the above group.
AQI breached the threshold of "unhealthy" status for all groups on Friday, compelling the officials to take prompt decisions.
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.
Analyses illustrate that the pollutant responsible for the 19 highly polluted days recorded in the period under investigation was PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matters that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers).
Air quality in the corresponding month of 2018 was more satisfying, as "Moderate" condition dominated the period with AQI standing between 51 and 100 for 22 days. In November 2018, AQI showed "good" status for two days.
Sensitive groups in the capital were warned to limit their outdoor exposure for the remaining seven days.
As the fourth leading cause of premature deaths worldwide, toxic air leads to heart disease and stroke, lung cancer and respiratory infections.
According to a report released by the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization, during the fiscal year that ended in March 2017, some 12,000 air pollution-related deaths were reported in Iran, with one-third of the fatalities recorded in the capital.
Recently, an official with the Department of Environment told media outlets that air pollution annually costs Tehran residents $2.6 billion, which implies that air pollution inflicts a loss of $300 on each resident of the capital.
Based on a Saturday report by the Health Ministry, the persistent toxic pollution in the capital city has forced over 5,000 respiratory and cardiovascular patients to medical emergency centers in Tehran during last week.
Earlier this month, Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi wistfully said Tehran’s only way out of the current crisis is to hope for the helping hand of Nature.
“If the wind were to blow our way, the situation would improve,” he said.
This time, Iran Meteorological Organization is expecting air movements and rainfall to do the same.
Over the past few decades, as Tehran expands in all directions, mayor after mayor has failed to address the issue effectively.
They have failed to relocate some of the most polluting industries, such as cement and asphalt factories, out of the capital city.
Millions of people work and live in Tehran. They all need decent transportation. However, government and municipality coffers are lacking in funds when it comes to paying for upgrading or expanding public transportation services.
They also do not have the means to extend loans to owners of dilapidated vehicles for replacing them with more efficient vehicles.
Sadeq Ziaian, an official with IMO, announced that air pollution will most probably persist until Monday.
"Medium-scale air motions and scattered precipitation are not expected to have any impact on the city until the next two days," he added.
Given the absence of long-term initiatives and the lack of determination to combat air pollution on a war footing, citizens will continue to suffer in the foreseeable future in Iranian metropolises.