EghtesadOnline: Although winter is on the way out, Tehran is still struggling with persistent air pollution. With the coronavirus gaining strength in the country, health experts caution that the pollution can increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading further.
The rapid outbreak of COVID-19 in Iran since mid-February and the increasing number of people with positive coronavirus tests have added to the risk of air pollution, according to Financial Tribune.
Some scientists and medical professionals argue that there is a potential link between long-term exposure to air pollution and compromised lung capacity, which could make an individual more likely to develop a severe form of COVID-19, the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad reported.
With 170 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in Tehran, the capital has taken the place of Qom as the epicenter of the rapid outbreak in Iran.
While the central city of Qom was the country's coronavirus focal point in the first days of the epidemic, nearly half of the new cases detected in the past 24 hours has emerged in Tehran, the most populated Iranian city, health officials announced on Sunday.
Overall, Iran’s confirmed coronavirus cases soared to 978 as of March 1, including 54 who have died from the infectious disease.
Iranian cities have been struggling with air pollution for long. According to a report released by the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization, during the fiscal year that ended 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.
Scientific studies show that among air pollutants, particulate matters, especially PM2.5, are the most harmful due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstreams unfiltered, causing heart attacks, respiratory disease and premature death.
Generally speaking, air pollution of any kind has been recognized as the fourth leading cause of premature deaths worldwide.
According to the data regularly released by Tehran Air Quality Control Company, a subsidiary of Tehran Municipality, people in Tehran breathed a slightly more polluted air in February compared to the month of last year.
TAQCC data available on Airnow.tehran.ir show that during the month, people in the metropolis spent three days in pure clean skies with the Air Quality Index showing a “good” status.
The National Air Quality Index categorizes atmospheric conditions according to 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).
TAQCC data further show that “moderate” status dominated the month, with the AQI standing between 51 and 100 for 21 days.
The remaining five days were marked “unhealthy for the sensitive group, which includes the elderly, children, pregnant women and those with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The index showed “unhealthy for the sensitive group”, standing in the range of 101-150.
A detailed investigation of the data shows that in February, air quality condition deteriorated compared to the year-ago month.
In 2019, February registered seven days of “good” air quality. AQI was “moderate” for 19 days and in the three remaining days, the sensitive group was advised to limit their outdoor activities.
Pollutants measured to determine air quality include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). The AQI figures are calculated based on the concentration of these pollutants.
The pollutant found responsible for all the polluted days was PM2.5, the particulate matters smaller than 2.5 micrometers mainly emitted from polluting vehicles.
Air pollution has long been an environmental and health nuisance for the citizens and urban managers of Tehran. Over the past few decades, mayor after mayor has failed to address the issue effectively, making excuses for their inefficiency.
In early autumn, Tehran’s Mayor Pirouz Hanachi had wistfully said the only way out of the 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. The constrained economic conditions have grounded plans to import new buses and induct more train wagons into the city's subway network.