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IRAN: Experts suggest sanctions are tied to staggering pollution levels

December 7, 2010 |  5:49 am

Iran-pollution Are Iran's attempts to deal with international sanctions a cause of the extremely high air-pollution levels afflicting the capital city of Tehran?

A report Monday on the Persian-language news website Khabaronline says record pollution choking Tehran for the last month may be the result of low-quality gasoline Iran has been producing to counter the effects of international sanctions.

Iran, one of the world's biggest oil producers, nevertheless had to import much of its refined fuel to satiate the demands of its population.

But international sanctions over Iran's' nuclear program are spurring many companies to stop doing business with the Islamic Republic.

Not to worry, said Iranian authorities. Iran can make its own high-quality gasoline.

But as residents of Tehran are choked by continued stifling smog, consumers are becoming more doubtful.  

The owner of a chain of private gas stations in Tehran told Babylon & Beyond that his customers were complaining that the domestically produced gasoline was harming their car engines.

Khabaronline, which is politically close to parliament speaker Ali Larijani, cited experts as saying the exhaust from the homemade gasoline also may be the cause of the headaches, respiratory illnesses, insomnia and exhaustion that Tehran residents are experiencing.

According to the report, gas stations are selling three types of fuel: gasoline produced at petrochemical plants; with the additive MTBE; and normal fuel produced at refineries.

According to experts, the aromatic level of the petrochemical fuel is 14, more than twice the permitted level of six.

One retired chemist told Babylon  & Beyond that Iran used a process called pyrolysis to extract fuel from spent petrochemical waste, a method he described as "very unhealthy and expensive."

The Khabaronline report cited experts as saying even the fuel with MTBE is considered carcinogenic in Europe.

The oil ministry denied that Iranian-produced fuel was the cause of the pollution. But Khabaronline couldn't hide its skepticism. “Despite the definitive rejection of the claim by the oil ministry, there was no reasonable scientific response to the allegations," said the report.

It added that the lack of up-to-date equipment for the production of gasoline also could be contributing to poor fuel quality. 

Meanwhile, the pollution issue may be turning into another headache for the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

"Air pollution is a natural phenomenon and will always exist in today's industrial world," said a column Monday in the moderate daily Mardomsalari. "What is unnatural is the unpreparedness to handle the management of this crisis."

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: Tehran, blanketed in smog. Credit: Tabnak.ir

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