Fact Check: Does air pollution kill 3,000 people per year in Tehran?
Once again, Tehran’s severe air pollution has become a hot topic for politicians across Iran. Amidst the heated rhetoric some exaggerated claims have been made about the impact of air pollution on the health of Tehran’s residents.
Hossein Tala, MP from Tehran, and a critic of the current government, has told parliament that “air pollution kills 8 people per day, and 3,000 people per year in Tehran.”
Mr. Tala did not respond to Majlis Monitor’s inquiry about the source of his statement.
Deadly Pollution or Just Hot Air?
The severity of air pollution in Tehran has been the subject of varying and sometimes contradictory statistics from different sources, including the Tehran municipality and Members of Parliament. The Minister of Health has denied all unofficial claims of an increased death rate due to air pollution.
The main causes of air pollution in Tehran are the burning of fossil fuels and Tehran’s soil texture.
Mohammad-hadi Heidarzadeh, Director General for the Environment, points out that Tehran’s air pollution is mostly caused by dust rather than fuel. He says that Tehran has become a desert city and a lack of greenery has contributed to the existing air pollution.
Studies Confirm Pollution-Health Link
A 2014 study on heart disease shows that exposure to air pollution for at least 48 hours increases the risk of heart failure and shortness of breath. In addition, hospital statistics on admissions and deaths due to heart disease show that cardiovascular failure is significantly higher during periods of increased air pollution.
Another study from 2002 to 2005 on the correlation between death rates and air pollution in Tehran indicated that there are more deaths in central Tehran – where there is more air pollution – than anywhere else in the city. Most of the causes of death were heart disease and stroke.
More than 90 percent of Tehran’s air pollution occurs at an altitude of less than 500 meters. This means that most of Tehran’s northern neighborhoods are outside the inversion layer. Thus, all areas below 500 meters, including neighborhoods central Tehran, are in the inversion layer – where the disease severity is higher. The research also indicated that the peak of air pollution occurs during the months of October and November.
“When air pollution increases, the funeral homes work overtime”
Authorities at Tehran municipality have variously endorsed and rejected claims about the increase of disease on polluted days. For example, Ahmad Masjed Jamei, chairman of Tehran City Council, said that when air pollution increases, the funeral homes work overtime and the cardiovascular units of hospitals become full.
However, Hassan Hashemi, Minister of Health, has denied such claims and said that death rates and life expectancy remained the same as last year. He has also rejected that hospitalization rates have increased because of air pollution.
Despite denials from the Ministry of Health, medical researchers have confirmed a direct correlation between a increased death rate and air pollution in studies conducted over the past ten years. Therefore, we rate Hossein Tala’s statement regarding the number of deaths per day due to air pollution in Tehran to be ‘half true’.