Tehran residents choking on pollution

The number of deaths caused by cardiac arrest increased by 15 per cent in the week that followed when the pollution was particularly high.

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TEHRAN // Hundreds of Tehran residents have been taken to hospitals and emergency rooms with respiratory or cardiac problems since Dec 8, when air pollution rose to alarming levels in the city. The number of deaths caused by cardiac arrest increased by 15 per cent in the week that followed when the pollution was particularly high, according to Tehran cemetery officials. The pollution has been persistent as the temperature currently hovers at about 0°C and traps the fumes from cars and industries over the city, forcing emergency rooms and hospitals to operate on a high state of alert, health ministry officials said. "A close relative of mine who has asthma had to be rushed to the hospital last week when her health condition got seriously worrying. She hadn't even been out because of the warning about the dangerous level of the air pollution," said Zahra Afsari, a 45-year-old housewife. This month, electronic display boards that register the level of air pollution in the city's busiest squares and streets frequently have shown alarming levels of carbon monoxide and solid particles. Both are considered very dangerous to one's health. "Since winter cold began it is not possible to go out and not return home fatigued, nauseated, with itchy eyes, a sore throat, a bad headache or even with all of these symptoms," said Mehdi Gharakhanlou, a 38-year-old businessman. "I work in the commercial centre of the city where despite the ban on the use of private cars and enforcement of even-odd licence plate system, the problem is even worse than in other parts of the city. I wear a mask when I am out, but even that doesn't help much," Mr Gharakhanlou said. Yesterday, the Tehran Police Authority started implementing a traffic control plan aimed at cutting the city's air pollution. Police will now confiscate cars visibly contributing to pollution and enforce a 70,000 rial (Dh26) fine on drivers whose cars have failed to pass a safety inspection. Several hundred thousand of the more than three million cars in Tehran are old, with very poor fuel efficiency. Authorities said more than 80 per cent of the pollution is caused by carbon monoxide spewing from car exhausts. Jaffar Tashakkori Hashemi, the deputy mayor of Tehran, was recently quoted by newspapers as saying that only 20 per cent of the vehicles navigating in the city meet the requirements of the emission standards of the European Union. "One of the best ways to overcome this huge problem is phasing out the old cars with new, more fuel-efficient, ones. The government can help this by offering loans to owners of old cars to buy new ones. They are doing that, but too slowly," said Hassan Ebadi, 56, a taxi driver. "They can enforce higher emission control standards on automakers. Improving the metro network and public transportation in general can also greatly help. But nobody seems to take the problem seriously enough to do something really serious about it." According to traffic authorities, the quality of the air in Tehran is below the standard level considered as healthy on more than one-third of the days of the year. Tehran's geographical location contributes to the problem of air pollution too. Tall mountains surround the city from north, east and west and form a trap for the fumes from cars and industries. msinaiee@thenational.ae