EghtesadOnline: A suffocating haze, consisting of dust and smoke particles, blanketed Tehran and forced 1,051 citizens to rush to medical centers on Saturday, Emergency Services Organization announced.
According to Mojtaba Khaledi, an official with the organization, toxic air has enveloped almost all Iranian metropolises, causing health problems in hundreds of citizens on Saturday.
"Tehran has the poorest air quality in the country, which causes extensive health effects," he said, adding that Isfahan and Alborz provinces are the most polluted cities after the capital, ISNA reported.
As the fourth leading cause of premature deaths worldwide, toxic air leads to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory infections, Financial Tribune reported.
A medical expert at Isfahan University of Medical Science warned that poor air quality triples the severity of cardiovascular diseases and increases the risk of chronic respiratory inflammations by 10 times.
Babak Tamizifar went on to warn the elderly over 70 years and children under 13 to avoid outdoor exposure as far as possible.
Authorities in Iran have shut down schools and universities in eight provinces, namely Tehran, Isfahan, Alborz, East Azarbaijan, Bushehr, Qazvin, Markazi and Qom. The provinces are clouded by thick and toxic smog considered hazardous to health.
Resorting to failed strategies, urban managers in Tehran decided to revive an odd-even traffic plan throughout the capital city since Saturday, which was discarded for being inefficient in June.
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.
The deteriorating air condition has raised concern even among lawmakers. Two MPs Mohammad Reza Sabbaghian and Alireza Salimi called on urban managers, environmentalists and related authorities to help find an urgent solution.
Indolent Tehran Municipality
Earlier this month, Tehran’s Mayor Pirouz Hanachi had wistfully said the only way out of the current smog crisis facing the megacity is to hope for the helping hand of Nature.
“If the wind were to blow our way, the situation would improve,” he had said.
Hanachi has repeatedly emphasized that the burning of fossil fuels, excessive use of private cars and the growing number of low-quality motorcycles are the main culprits causing air pollution in the megacity.
Urban managers believe that severe trade restrictions resulting from US sanctions have hampered the expansion of Iran’s public transportation fleet. Plans to purchase new buses and add more train wagons to the city's subway network have ground to a halt.
According to Hanachi’s list of urban woes, there seems to be no alternative at present for curbing the motorbike numbers, the country cannot afford to import new buses in large numbers and local manufacturers do not have the technology, machinery and the means to produce indigenous, eco-friendly buses.
In spite of these failures, the mayor still insists on populist, face-saving moves like participating in bike riding campaigns and taking the subway to work, in hopes of encouraging the public to let go of their convenient private cars and use the ailing pubic services to commute.
Over the past few decades, mayor after mayor has failed to address the issue effectively, making excuses for their inefficiency.
Deficient Traffic Scheme
Besides the substandard vehicles, dilapidated transportation fleet and the thermal inversion phenomenon that usually emerges in the cold days, experts have repeatedly blamed the growing air pollution on the inadequacy of Air Pollution Control scheme currently running in Tehran.
Proposed by Tehran Municipality's Transportation Council after talks with environmentalists and urban planners, the APC scheme was launched on June 22 to curb traffic and air pollution.
In the past few months, Tehran City Council and Traffic Police have been scrutinizing the scheme’s performance and highlighting drawbacks that negatively affect air quality and public transportation.
Last month, Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi told the media that the weak points of the scheme were communicated via an unofficial letter to TM, calling for urgent modifications. However, he lamented that until the present, the appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
The divergence of management policies and inconsistency of municipal bodies in decision-making seemingly forced one of the key TM deputies to resign from his position.
Mohsen Pourseyyed Aqaei who directed TM's Transportation and Traffic Organization since September 2017 and played the main role in designing and implementing traffic and air pollution schemes in the capital, submitted his resignation on Saturday, whichHanachi accepted.
Before entering the municipality, Aqaei was the ex-CEO of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways who resigned in the aftermath of a deadly train crash in November 2016 in central Iran.
It takes a while to judge the performance of managerial changes. As a result, the main problem is still lingering without a viable solution in sight.
Air Quality Status
The Iranian capital has been suffocating under a blanket of smog that has refused to budge over the past few weeks, excluding a day or two, when scattered rainfall and wind blow eased the pollution partly.
However, toxic emissions again enveloped the city and pushed up the air quality index to alarming levels.
Data regularly published by Tehran Air Quality Control Company show that since the beginning of the ninth Iranian month (Nov. 22), Tehran’s residents have not seen 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 10 days, the AQI held on to the "moderate" status.
Besides, sensitive groups in the capital were warned to limit their outdoor activities in 14 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 Nov. 29, compelling the officials to take prompt decisions.
Analyses illustrate that the pollutant responsible for the 15 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 period of 2018 was more satisfying, as "moderate" condition dominated the period with AQI standing between 51 and 100 for 16 days. In addition, AQI had "good" status only for a single day.
Sensitive groups in the capital were warned to limit their outdoor exposure for the remaining eight days.
Since the beginning of the current Iranian year (March 21), Tehran has passed two days with "unhealthy" air condition for all groups, 51 days with "unhealthy" status for sensitive groups, 192 days with "moderate" and 25 days with "good" air quality condition.
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.
Given the absence of long-term initiatives and the lack of determination to combat air pollutio