Measures Stepped Up to Check Air Pollution

Finance Desk
Measures Stepped Up  to Check Air Pollution
Measures Stepped Up  to Check Air Pollution

The list of the most air polluted places in the world includes several Iranian cities. Even as the country accelerates its efforts to tackle pollution, the toll is increasing both domestically and globally. In new estimates, the WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that the problem is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

But air pollution is not synonymous with the presence of more cars, in fact, some of the most polluted cities in the world are not buzzing with traffic. Air pollution is defined by the presence of airborne particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10).  The WHO has included outdoor air pollution on its definitive list of the world’s known carcinogens—an addition it hopes, will get governments to act. Air pollution is the world’s worst environmental carcinogen and more dangerous than secondary smoke.

The cities with the worst air are often not big capitals, but provincial places with heavy industry. Ahwaz, for instance, in southwestern Iran, far outstrips infamously polluted cities like New Delhi or Beijing, with 372 parts per million of particles smaller than 10 micrometers, compared to the world average of 71. The astonishing levels of air pollution have damaged the natural environment, and marshland biodiversity is so seriously threatened that migratory birds have abandoned the area. Other smog-bound centers in the top 10 ranking are Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Ludhiana, India; Peshawar, Pakistan and Gaborone, Botswana.

Three other Iranian cities are also in the list, namely Sanandaj, Kermanshah and Yasouj. Particle matter entering from western borders plays a big role in the pollution of these cities. WHO says exposure to particle matter increases the risk of acute lower respiratory infection in children under 5 years, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischaemic heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

However, when it comes to the capital Tehran, toxic emissions from motor vehicles have been the biggest cause of air pollution. This was especially grave in 2013 before new vehicle emission standards were set to eliminate the use of substandard gasoline – a calendar year which hardly saw clean air on record. Although Iran is not a top-ranking country when it comes to vehicles per capita - 68th in the world, poor quality gasoline and traffic congestion has made it one of the most polluted countries.

 New Standards

Masoumeh Ebtekar, head of the Department of Environment (DoE) says she is optimistic that a new era of responsibility has been ushered to reduce air pollution emitted by motor vehicles. ‘’In the past, car manufacturers were facing a dilemma to meet new safety standards, because they didn’t see enough resolve in the government in moving towards high standards, but now that the petroleum ministry has come to the forefront in fighting pollution they are also determined to do their part,’’ she told Shargh newspaper.

The DoE head says government rules are the key to controlling air pollution. ‘’We pass rules and ensure that car manufacturers observe them; there are firms we trust who inspect the manufactured cars to make sure they are on par with the standards sets,’’ she adds.

In outlining the DoE goals, Ebtekar says their immediate focus is tackling the problem in Tehran and other major cities. It includes three sources of air pollution: mobile sources, stationary sources and natural pollutants.  

Stationary source emissions are from identified utility, industrial, institutional and commercial facilities operating at fixed locations and are further classified as “major” or “minor” depending on the magnitude of their emissions. Examples are electric power and phosphate processing plants, pulp and paper mills, and municipal waste combustors. Minor sources include most asphalt, concrete and bulk gasoline plants.  Natural calamities that pollute the air include forest fires, volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, pollen dispersal, evaporation of organic compounds and natural radioactivity.


Ebtekar sounds optimistic about the Clean Air Act passed by the government and that it would become a permanent law. The air pollution committees have resumed meetings after a period of inactivity and there are laws exempting imported hybrid and electric cars from paying customs duties. She hopes for the day “when Iranians will drive fuel economy cars that are totally safe for the environment.” The law also now support’s and encourages the use of plastic fuel tanks.

Meanwhile, Keivan Vaziri, standards manager at Iran Khodro (IKCO) the leading  vehicle manufacturer in the country with headquarters in Tehran, rejects the claims that their cars are a main contributor to air pollution and says they have adopted euro 4 standards for all their vehicles.

The only problem he says is fuel. “If euro 4 fuel is not used in these cars, not only will the pollution worsen but also the vehicle engine will be damaged,’’ Vaziri maintains.  However, Vaziri is doubtful whether euro 4 gasoline is available in all the cities and whether the ‘’clean gas’’ distributed at fuel stations meets the euro 4 standards. ‘’Laboratories do not inform us whether this is euro 4 or not,’’ he says.  Vaziri admits there were some problems in the locally manufactured engines due to the Western sanctions on Iran’s civilian nuclear program, but says the problem was immediately taken care of. ‘’ For our future engines, we will be far more meticulous and intend to raise our standards regardless of the fuel provided by the government,’’ he says.

Another step IKCO is taking is to replace all the metal fuel tanks with plastic ones in all their vehicles. Vaziri says that by the end of the calendar year (March 21, 2015), no cars with metal tanks will come out of the production line.  With government stepping up distribution of high quality fuel and car manufactures determined to raise safety standards, one can hope that clean air is still within reach for a nation beleaguered by mounting urban air pollution.