NEW YORK TIMES REPORTS: Tehran is choked by air pollution (click to read / link to full story)

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Annual Buildup of Air Pollution Chokes Tehran



TEHRAN — Already battered by international threats against their nation’s nuclear program, sanctions and a broken economy, Iranians living here in the capital are now trying to cope with what has become an annual pollution peril: a yellowish haze that engulfs Tehran this time of year.


For nearly a week, officials here and in other large cities have been calling on residents to remain indoors or avoid downtown areas, saying that with air pollution at such high levels, venturing outside could be tantamount to “suicide,” state radio reported Saturday.


On Sunday, government offices, schools, universities and banks reopened after the government had ordered them to shut down for five days to help ease the chronic pollution. Tehran’s normally bustling streets were largely deserted.


Residents who dare to go outside cover their mouths and noses with scarves or surgical masks, but their eyes tear up and their throats sting from the mist of pollutants, which a report by the municipality of Tehran says is made up of a mixture of particles containing lead, sulfur dioxins and benzene.


“It feels as if even God has turned against us,” Azadeh, a 32-year-old artist, said on a recent day as she looked out a window in her apartment that often offers a clear view of Tehran, a sprawling city that is home to millions. But on this day, Azadeh, who did not want her full name used, saw only the blurred outlines of high-rise buildings and the Milad communications tower in the distance. The setting sun was reduced to a yellowish coin by the thick blanket of smog.


The haze of pollution occurs every year when cold air and windless days trap fumes belched out by millions of cars and hundreds of old factories between the peaks of the majestic Alborz mountain range, which embraces Tehran like a crescent moon.