Where there’s smoke … there’s sanction busting

I just got a Rapid Response e-published in the British Medical Journal – about air pollution in Iran and it’s health effects.

Its at : http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g40/rr/685423
If you like it, please do click your ‘like’.

The text is here below. It’s in response to a BMJ editorial about how bad air pollution is in China:

Brauer and Mancini say that “perhaps nowhere are the health effects of outdoor air pollution felt more than in China”.

But Iran has four out of the top ten air-polluted cities, according to the WHO 2003-2010 data. Ahvaz is the most polluted city in the world, with particulate levels three times that of Beijing (and nearly thirteen times that of London) (http://www.who.int/phe/health_topics/outdoorair/databases/en/). Ahvaz has to cope with micro-dust blowing in from neighbouring countries, as well as industrial and domestic pollution (See http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/in-this-iranian-city-the-air-is-three-t… for some images of what life is like in Ahvaz).

Tehran has cleaned up recently – with carbon monoxide levels no longer a problem, lead eliminated from gasoline, and sulphur levels dropping from a frightening 8000ppm to less than 200 (they are aiming at <10). But one-third of days in Tehran are still officially “unhealthy” for normal individuals. Of course it’s worse for the more vulnerable: it’s not unusual for schools to have to close when the pollution levels get especially high.

The sanctions are making it very difficult for the Iranians to improve much faster: the petroleum sanctions mean they are forced to use their own “wrong sort of petrol” for everything. The economic crisis following financial sanctions (and, of course, the previous internal mismanagement) means that they don’t have any money for the “Best Available Technology”, even if they were allowed to import it. So they can’t retrofit urban buses, or think about hybrid electric taxis and motorbikes, as they would like to. They can’t even import the calibration gases they need for their monitoring programme. At a recent Iran Heritage Foundation conference, there was talk of donkeys smuggling these high technology gases over the mountain borders, just to allow simple monitoring (http://www.iranheritage.org/Ecology).

Of course, the Iranians – or at least Iranian dust – busts the sanctions, as Pakistan and Afghanistan know to their cost. The third largest lake in Iran, Lake Hamun in Sistan, covered 150,000 sq miles at the turn of the twentieth century. There was a developed local economy based on the nezyar, the unique local “reed forest”. The “Lake” is now a dustbowl – leading to major population movements, with all the adverse health effects that follow these; and micro-dust blowing hundreds of kilometres into the neighbouring countries. This is especially bad in the annual “120 day winds”: which reach 180kmph and are as good for your eyes as a hairdryer blowing sand into your face would be – for three months of the year. See http://www.intechopen.com/source/html/38757/media/image2.jpeg for a difficult-to-believe view of the size of the micro-dust storms.

So it’s not just China which is experiencing adverse health effects from air pollution – even if the less-official academic sanctions make it difficult for Iranian scientists to share their own data.

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