Some Respite for Tehran!

Some Respite for Tehran! Some Respite for Tehran!

Tehran’s air quality finally showed some improvement on Saturday, following three weeks of unprecedented pollution and smog.

Mohammad Rastegari, environment monitoring deputy at the Department of Environment, told IRNA that the capital’s air quality index averaged 60 — a 40-point drop compared to the previous day, which was the weekend.

Residents of Tehran tolerated 23 days of heavy pollution and smog which, with the air quality index consistently hovering above 130, was unhealthy for the young, elderly and sick. The AQI surpassed the 150 threshold twice, making the air toxic to every group.

The DOE, in particular its chief Massoumeh Ebtekar, suffered an almost constant barrage of criticism from the lawmakers and city councilors who claimed not enough was being done to address the worsening pollution crisis.

Lawmakers accused the DOE of not telling the truth about the (low) quality of the imported Euro- 4 gasoline, while Mehdi Chamran, head of the Tehran City Council, falsely claimed last week that “180 people die every day in the metropolis due to air pollution.”

In response, environmental officials called on the MPs to review the Clean Air Bill, which has been backlogged for over a year, as well as a proposed amendment to the vehicle technical inspection law, instead of indulging in the blame game.

The bill calls for imposing extra tax on owners of polluting vehicles, selling higher quality gasoline in more cities and overhauling the outdated and prohibitive fuel consumption policies of domestic carmakers long aboard the gravy train.

Exhaust fumes from five million cars account for 80% of the 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.

The amendment to the technical inspection law calls for more frequent technical inspections of big and small vehicles. Whereas the current law stipulates that new cars must be inspected only after five years, the DOE is pushing for biennial inspections.

  Seeing Eye to Eye

On Thursday, Ebtekar told the media that Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has vowed to review the air pollution bill and the proposed amendment to the vehicle inspection law.

A day later, Hussein Amiri Khamkani, spokesman of the Majlis Energy Commission, said the commission has confirmed that the Euro-4 gasoline complies with international standards and said the air pollution crisis is neither caused nor exacerbated by the quality of the fuel, according to ISNA.

Behrouz Nemati, a member of the Majlis Industries and Mines Commission, publically backed the proposed amendment to the inspection law and said, “When Parliament passed the law during the previous administration, they failed to weigh the pros and cons of five-year technical inspections.”

Emphasizing the significant impact of old and dilapidated cars on air quality, the lawmaker asserted that the Majlis must do its part to ensure that the clunkers are sent to the scrap yard.

  Other Culprits

While old, substandard vehicles are the main contributors to Tehran’s dangerous air pollution, other factors have also played key roles in exacerbating the metropolis’ perennial struggle with smog.

Residents have long witnessed the unrestrained construction of skyscrapers and disappearing gardens so that the municipality could make a profit. The debt owed to the municipality by previous administrations only exacerbated the disorganized and unacceptable urbanization, which has seen the population of the capital jump four-fold, from three million in 1979 to 12 million now.

Urbanization has led to construction of tall buildings, which have been propping like wild mushrooms on Tehran’s western flank, blocking winds and effectively preventing them from blowing the smog away.

DOE officials, such as Saeed Motessadi, deputy for human habitats, have warned against the fallouts of overpopulation, with some saying that Tehran’s carrying capacity is already maxed out.

Among the more palpable consequences of overpopulation is the daily traffic chaos, which has become an ugly hallmark of the overcrowded city, and the underdeveloped public transportation that has failed to keep pace with the population explosion.

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.

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.

While the capital’s air quality improved at the weekend, it would be naïve to think that it will last!

As Esmael Kahrom, a senior advisor to Ebtekar, said in December, construction of towers and the presence of hundreds of polluting factories around the sprawling city have made the fight against air pollution not difficult be outright impossible.