Closing Schools for Pollution Not Feasible

Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani: Given the sheer number of ambiguities, planning for the winter break is very difficult
For more than six months of the year, Tehran’s 12 million residents inhale a toxic mix of particulate matters.For more than six months of the year, Tehran’s 12 million residents inhale a toxic mix of particulate matters.

The proposal for a two-week school break during winter to help curb the temperature inversion phenomenon in Tehran, proposed by the Department of Environment, is not feasible according to the Tehran governorate. 

Temperature inversion is a weather phenomenon that occurs in winter and is caused when a layer of cool air at the surface is overlain by a layer of warmer air at higher altitude, essentially acting as a cap and trapping air pollutants in the city, which leads to heavy smog.

In September, at the start of the new academic year, the DOE proposed to the Ministry of Education to close Tehran schools for two weeks in winter to curb air pollution.

Expressing concern over students’ health conditions, Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of DOE, said closing schools when air pollution peaks from late autumn to early winter—when there is a palpable drop in temperature—can help protect schoolchildren, who are classified as vulnerable by health experts, from the impact of air pollution, ISNA reported.

The deputy Tehran governor for technical and construction affairs, Gholam Hussein Aram, said shutting down schools will not help alleviate the impact of the phenomenon because the capital’s heavy air pollution does not originate solely from students’ transport.

Furthermore, schools must be informed of the break date so as to prepare their schedules beforehand. “But inversion is basically not predictable,” said the official, ILNA reported. 

The Education Ministry is not in support of the plan. Speaking to reporters in late September, Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani said “given the sheer number of ambiguities,” planning for the winter break is very difficult.

 “We don’t know exactly when temperature inversion occurs, so we can’t schedule the winter break,” he said.

Nevertheless, the minister admitted that students’ health takes priority over all else. “Therefore, we’ll work with the DOE to figure something out,” he said without elaboration.

  No Role for City Council 

The scheme has not yet been officially communicated to the governorate to be legalized. According to Aram, the scheme is highly unlikely to be presented or win approval from the City Council. “I do not think that it is even practical and implementable…The council is not liable for making decisions about school holidays.”  

He stressed that the sporadic cases of school closure in previous years were particularly aimed at protecting students’ health as pollution had reached alarming levels. 

Air pollution in one of the world’s smoggiest capitals does not discriminate among social classes. For more than six months out of the year, Tehran’s 12 million residents inhale a toxic  mix of particulate matters, asbestos, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and partially unburned hydrocarbons.

Temperature inversion stops atmospheric convection (which is normally present) from happening in the affected area by acting as a ‘cap’, and can lead to the air becoming stiller and murky from the collection of dust and pollutants that are no longer able to be lifted from the surface. This can become a serious problem in cities like Tehran, where many pollutants exist.

Air pollution in the sprawling capital, especially in the winter, has become a permanent fixture and a serious source of concern for young and old alike. Most experts and environmentalists blame the “poison in the air” on the monstrous traffic and millions of gas guzzlers cruising Tehran 24/7. 

They have been ridiculing the Tehran Municipality and the government for years for failing to develop an efficient public transport system and investing time, money and energy on increasing the number of automobiles produced inside the country, which mostly have a very poor record.

Most of the cars are produced by the two state-affiliated companies -- Saipa and Iran Khodro. The two apparently mismanaged carmakers have an unyielding monopoly on the Iranian market with two distinct and menacing features: low quality and high price. 

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