Skyscrapers, Factories Exacerbate Air Pollution

Skyscrapers, Factories Exacerbate Air PollutionSkyscrapers, Factories Exacerbate Air Pollution

Construction of tall buildings and towers and the presence of hundreds of polluting factories around the sprawling Iranian capital have made the fight against air pollution not difficult be outright impossible, according to an environmental expert.

Speaking to ILNA, Esmael Kahrom, a senior advisor to Department of Environment chief, Massoumeh Ebtekar, said tall buildings propping up like wild mushrooms on Tehran’s western flank block winds, effectively preventing them from blowing the smog away.

“To make matters worse, 30% of all factories in the country are concentrated in and around Tehran,” he said.

Afshar Fat’hollahi, deputy for industrial affairs at the Ministry of Mines, Industries and Trade, however, told ISNA that industrial activity in and around the capital contribute to only 5% of Tehran’s pollution.

“The DOE inspects industrial facilities and they have not shut down any factory recently. They’ve only issued warnings to cement factories in western Tehran, but the issues were resolved quickly,” he said without elaboration.

In 2013 the DOE enforced regulations that no industrial facility can be built in a 120-kilometer radius in Tehran, “but that was all but ignored during the tenure of the former  administration,” Kahrom said.

According to official reports exhaust fumes from five million cars make up 80% of the Iranian capital’s pollution that every year during the start of winter shuts down schools, locks up million in homes and fills hospitals with young and old having difficulty breathing and other respiratory ailments.

  Public Transportation Deficient

The development of public transportation in the sprawling capital has shockingly failed to keep pace with the population explosion. The metropolis is home to some 12 million people, a four-fold increase on the 1979 population of three million.

Despite recent advances in public transport networks, such as establishment of the Bus Rapid Transit routes and expansion of the Tehran metro, a shortage of buses and trains combined with an unacceptable lack of decency and etiquette displayed on subway platforms deter most people, who prefer to drive to work and suffer grueling traffic congestion than to wait for a train and possibly get involved in an altercation.

Experts and environmentalists often point to the old and ageing bus fleets in most cities that do more than their share of adding to the pollution crisis and harming the fragile environment.  A senior official of a relatively modern industrial plant in Saveh said at the weekend that it is “enough for you to go and stand near one of the big factories that bus their workers to and from the workplace. Many of their buses are half a century old.”  Not wanting to be named, he told the Financial Tribune that the gas-guzzlers are spread across the country. “This dangerous reality has long been lost on those in charge or maybe they do not have eyes to see.”

  Tyranny of Geography

Tehran’s air pollution is magnified in winter as emissions fail to rise above cold air as a result of a phenomenon known as temperature inversion. Whereas normally temperature is cooler at higher altitudes, sometimes —especially during winter — temperature rises with height. This so-called inversion means cold air underlies warmer air at higher altitudes.

Smog is impacted by the inversion layer because it is in essence, capped, when the warm air mass moves over an area. This happens because the warmer air layer sits over Tehran and prevents the normal mixing of cooler, denser air. The air instead becomes still and over time the lack of mixing causes pollutants to become trapped under the inversion, developing significant amounts of smog.

Tehran’s topography piles on the misery: The metropolis is located in a valley surrounded by towering mountains, which enhance the formation and increase the strength of inversions.

“We have implemented long-term measures, such as the distribution of Euro 4 quality gasoline, that would have helped address the pollution problem if conditions allowed,” Kahrom said.

On Saturday, when Tehran’s AQI (air quality index) was hovering around 141, the DOE announced short-term measures to mitigate the pollution, including the shutting down of asphalt plants and cement factories around Tehran until Friday and a week-long ban on the sales of daily traffic zone permits.

Schools were also closed on Sunday and Monday.

Ironically, the meters registered an higher AQI of 153 on Sunday — a day after the quick-fix measures went into effect.

For the first time in nine months, Tehran’s air pollution hit its worst level last Monday, registering an AQI of 162; within a “red status” which means the level of toxic pollutants in the air posed health risks to each and every person and not just those deemed sensitive, according to World Health Organization standards.

Including Sunday, Tehran experienced 12 consecutive days of toxic smog.