From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published December 1, 2010 01:16 PM

Polluted Holidays in Iran

A holiday is supposed to be a fun off day to enjoy life in some fashion. For the second time in a month, heavy air pollution in Iran's smog-filled capital has forced authorities to close government offices and schools and declare a two-day public holiday because of the health dangers of being outdoors. Yet this happened in July 2009 too when Iranian authorities declared public holiday in the capital Tehran after a sandstorm blotted out the already heavily polluted city. All of this is caused by several factors, some man made and some due to local climate and geological conditions. It is also not unique for Tehran though that city is suffering in the extreme.

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In 2009 dust clouds reduced visibility, some domestic flights were grounded or delayed for days, especially in western areas close to Iraq, which had suffered one of its worst sandstorms in living memory. The streets of Tehran, a city of 12 million people, were unusually calm as government employees and others stayed home. Many of those who ventured to work wore face masks and ambulances were deployed in squares. The Tehran Times newspaper said pollution had risen to 21 times the normal level.

A government committee decided the present pollution levels in Tehran warranted the closure of all government offices, schools and industries on Wednesday and Thursday because of "polluted and unhealthy" conditions.

The air over Iran's capital is among the most polluted in the world, and health experts say many Iranians suffer serious health problems as a result.

Most of the pollution comes from vehicles on the congested roads of the rapidly growing metropolis of more than 12 million people, and the level of pollutants far exceeds World Health Organization standards. Each year, the 1.4 million vehicles in the city pump an estimated 5 million tons of CO2 into the air, according to the Tehran mayor's office.

Tehran has a similar geographical position to Los Angeles and Mexico City — two other cities that experience heavy air pollution. Though similar conditions in those cities have not been so extreme.

The mountains ringing the Iranian capital on three sides and the warm air rising from the other help to trap the pollution, and there is little wind to clear it. A similar effect occurs for Mexico City and Los Angeles.

Among steps to try to reduce the pollution, Iran is converting heating systems in residential and commercial buildings to natural gas. Authorities are also expanding public transport, requiring vehicle emission inspections and developing more green spaces. Police officers, taxi drivers and other workers who are forced to work outside are required to wear surgical masks while on the job, the ministry said.

For further information: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/11/30/iran.tehran.pollution/index.html?section=cnn_latest or http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MzgwNzE2NjE4

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