EghtesadOnline: Reports on the progress of the huge petrochemical industry in Iran are regularly fed into by the media in and outside the country.
There is no denying the fact that this sector and gas companies in Iran, most of which are in Assalouyeh in southern Bushehr Province, are doing much better compared to other businesses as production and exports have been of the ascending order over the past decade.
Surfing the net one comes across a wealth of articles and reports about the petrochemical industry around the world and its crucial role in various manufacturing sectors, Financial Tribune reported.
However, potential environmental hazards associated with these industries have raised increased concern for societies, Juniper Publishers reported.
This industry releases large quantities of toxic and deleterious substances as effluents into the atmosphere and generates solid waste that is difficult both to treat and dispose.
Emissions of harmful substances from the petrochemical industries has reduced significantly in last few years because of using environmental and technological developments along with an increased awareness about the safety aspects of plant operation.
It is essential to develop control and preventive measures which are to be taken at the planning stages in these industries.
According to Behzad Mohammadi, managing director of the National Petrochemical Company, production has increased by 6 million tons a year since 2013 and close to $5.4 billion was invested in the sector.
The Flip Side
So far so good. But the reality that has been pushed aside or concealed behind the achievements of the booming industry is that as the sector grows in leaps and bounds, more polluted and toxic air goes down the lungs of people living and working in Assalouyeh.
What is happening in Assalouyeh can be likened to an ecological disaster, jeopardizing the life of more than 100,000 people in the city, known as Iran’s petrochemical hub.
According to reporters who have visited the city, flaring of natural gas, outdoor sulphur storage facilities and industrial wastewater are among the most polluting sources that have contaminated not only the air but also the soil and water.
Provincial officials including Farhad Qolinezhad, the Department of Environment head in Bushehr, says at least $1.2 billion is needed to tackle pollution and help protect the people and flora and fauna (in Assalouyeh).
Referring to the completion of projects to reduce pollution, namely collecting flare gases in gas and petrochemical plants, he said, “A lot has been done in the past 10 years, but the problem is so immense that it cannot be handled easily and in the short term.”
A comprehensive plan has been devised to help check pollution in the region that also is home to Iran’s first Nuclear Power Plant.
“The plan has been approved by the Cabinet and I hope it can address the deep-rooted concerns,” he said without providing details, adding that the plan has its more than its share of opponents.
Highlighting the severity of environmental and human costs, he said a special committee has been set up to deal with the matter.
The situation in Bid Khun, a village in Asaluyeh, is so bad that residents cannot even donate blood. However, government officials in the region claim that this issue has nothing to do with pollution and blame malaria in the area.
Studies conducted by Shokrolah Farokhi, head of assessing pollution in Bushehr University of Medical Sciences and his team on 200,000 people in Assalouyeh and neighboring regions show that the prevalence of asthma and eczema (dermatitis) among students in the region is 11% higher than the national rates and also rates the Middle East.
Also, heavy metals (lead, mercury and arsenic) have been traced in the urine of elementary school children, indicating exposure to high pollution.
Moreover, the research showed that the prevalence of larynx cancer among those with close proximity to petrochemical plants is 23% higher than those living farther away.
This is what Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency said in an IEA report on ‘The Future of Petrochemicals’ in late 2018:
Our economies are heavily dependent on petrochemicals, but the sector receives far less attention than it deserves. Petrochemicals are one of the key blind spots in the global energy debate, especially given the influence they will exert on future energy trends.
According to the government-owned Persian-language newspaper 'Iran', reporters have been touring the gas and petrochemical hub since 2011. Some managers of the industry have regularly requested them not to highlight the pollution problems.
They usually blame the new US sanctions for not being able to fight pollution in their units because they cannot import advanced technology, special filters and parts.
As per law, all petrochem and gas firms in Bushehr are obliged to pay 1% from their sales to the provincial municipality.
Managers, including Mohammadreza Mirahmadi, head of a petrochemical company in Assalouyeh, say that the money should be given to DoE to help fight pollution.
They argue that DoE authorities do not provide news outlets with reliable information regarding ecological problems in Assalouyeh.