Pollution threat in Tehran 'bad as huge quake'
Robert Tait in Tehran
Wednesday January 10, 2007
Officials in Tehran have warned that the city's notoriously polluted air could cause a catastrophe after figures showed 120 people a day had died from toxic fumes.
The potential effects have been compared to those of a large earthquake, after 3,600 people were reported to have died from pollution-related illnesses in four weeks during October and November. The figures were released by officials heading a government programme to cut pollution in Tehran, home to 12 million people.
Emergency services have reported a big rise in hospital admissions for heart, chest and respiratory problems.
The statistics add to last year's 9,900 reported deaths from the effects of nitrous oxide and dust particles. Environmentalists say the poisonous cocktail is compounded by 2m tonnes of carbon monoxide and 180,000 tonnes of deadly hydrocarbons pumped out annually.
Starting this Friday, city authorities will offer free air filters and services to owners of Paykans, the Iranian-built Hillman Hunter-based cars that are often blamed for many of the environmental problems. About 1,000 old buses will be withdrawn while gas-fuelled buses and taxis will be introduced.
Mohammed Hadi Haidarzadeh, head of Tehran city council's clean air office, said life in the city amounted to "mass suicide". He told the Isna news agency: "The danger posed by Tehran's air pollution crisis is no less than an earthquake, with the difference that the destructive effects of an earthquake are instantaneous, whereas air pollution kills innocent people gradually."
The problem worsens in winter, when the combination of cold, still air and the surrounding mountains produces a film of smog that reduces visibility to a few hundred metres.