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The Black Skies of Tehran and the Air Quality Control Company

By: Mehrdad Khalily
San'at Haml-o-Naghl: Publication of the Transport Industry (Monthly)
May 1995, Vol. 14, No. 158

Tehran city pollution is near to approaching the suffocation point. The emission of 3,000 tons of carbon monoxide, 450 tons of hydrocarbons, 30 tons of sulfur and two tons of lead into the atmosphere per day has caused the city to lose its breath. Experts of the environment believe that if some plans to prevent contamination of the air are not instituted soon, the onset of the inversion phenomenon will be inevitable and the extent of bodily and financial damages will be unpredictable.

In order to find ways and means to combat pollution, the municipality of Tehran established in 1993 a company called the Air Quality Control Company (AQCC). It is not yet clear, however, whether this entity has executive responsibilities or it is merely charged with the collection of information.

AQCC's directors maintain that on the basis of studies made, 60% to 70% of the pollution in the Iranian capital is caused by motor vehicles, which consume eight million liters of gasoline per day. Other ancillary factors are cited as well, including increments in population growth, the relative shortage of modes of public transport, the unavailability of vehicle spare parts, the relatively advanced age of cars and the consequent inefficiencies of their motors, low quality of fuels used such as gasoil and gasoline, and, the dryness of the air in Tehran.

The AQCC has implemented some projects last year to reduce air pollution. It has installed air pollution measuring stations, gathered pollution data pertaining to metallic and non-metallic elements, applied visual processing for air pollution control, taken measurements at terminals within the city, organized a census of motorcycles plying the city routes and supervised the use of fuel by the taxis of Tehran.

It can be inferred from the said projects that AQCC's objective is to collect information and it seems that the company is concentrating more on amassing data about air quality rather than instituting measures for pollution control.

The firm has also carried out parallel plans in collaboration with the environment organization, traffic and transport bureau, and other concerned agencies. Nevertheless, it has not been fully ascertained what is the scope of activities of these organizations or what kinds of interrelationships exist among them.

Talking of the company performance, Ms. Paymaneh Hastei, AQCC's managing director and an advisor of the Tehran mayor, said: "In addition to the above-mentioned projects, others have also been put into effect including the following: the measurement of pollutants in three urban terminals, environmental evaluation of the plane trees lining Vali-Asr Avenue, investigation of the effects of the improvement kit installed on the Paykan motor, and reorganizing industrial projects in the west of Tehran."

An evaluation of the effects of a comprehensive education and training plan to increase public awareness concerning air pollution, a study of the effects of regulating motors to curb pollution caused by gases emanating from exhausts of motorcycles, prevention of gasoline overflows from car tanks, and many other schemes are likewise being planned by the AQCC.

Although the projects of the said company may prove to be a cornerstone for the commencement of basic studies focused on pollution; nevertheless, the general impression is that the programs have been devised too ambitiously.

The fact is, the pollution in Tehran is a cultural, social and economic problem. Without taking into account any one of these aspects, any proposed solution would be impractical and inefficient.

The project for upgrading the quality of passenger cars in the city may be cited as an example. In a society where a car is regarded as an asset by its owner, with a value that appreciates year after year; and, when the price of a new car has risen to several million toomans, the project for replacing worn out cars appears quite impractical. If old cars were to be set aside, how would the economic needs of their owners, who subsist on the transportation of cargo and passengers, be met? Moreover, changing the car with another one is also practically impossible as the price of a brand new model has become exorbitant. Even if the car was obtained on a hire purchase basis, the monthly installments will still be substantial to discourage the prospective buyer.

Another project discussed by the company is the prevention of gasoline overflows from car tanks. It can perhaps be said that this matter is more social and cultural rather than economic. Filling stations are mostly government-owned and those in charge are merely employees who are charged with collecting the gas payments from motorists. Moreover, a little extra amount of gasoline is not deemed to be having a big effect on expenses; hence, it cannot be expected that a tired and busy driver will take so much care to avoid overflowing his tank. The low quality of layers of car gasoline reservoirs is an additional problem. Therefore, pursuing this project would require an extensive public training exercise, which is more or less beyond our reach, if it is not totally impossible.

Investigating the effects of the improvement kits installed on the motors of Paykan cars is another activity of the AQCC. In this project, the lack of coordination and working relationships among various organizations is clearly emphasized. The improvement kit of the motor of the Paykan has been designed and prepared by the Ministry of Industries. On April 12 last year, and following the approval of the High Environment Council, the installation of the kit on existing Paykans became compulsory. Its purpose was to raise the efficiency and power of the motor, reduce the discharge of polluting gases to the air and improve the combustion system of the car.

According to AQCC's research, the installation of the improvement kit has resulted in the production of oil vapor in 77% of the vehicles and this substance was being emitted from the sides of the cars' oil reservoir. When the motor is warm, 43% of the Paykans shake when they are turned off, and 65% of these cars do not work normally. AQCC findings also divulged that out of the 6,000 Paykans where the kits have been installed, 40% have been removed because they were functioned inconsistently. Sixty-one percent of the cars with kits produced an unnatural sound and in 57% of the cases, trembling occurred when the motor was extinguished.

Furthermore, after the installation of these gadgets, fuel consumption increased in 50% of the vehicles and traction decreased by 54%. Researches show that defects appearing after the kit's installation have not been corrected by servicing, and that after regulating the motor, some other problems became manifest. All these only serve to exhibit that a logical relationship among the organizations charged with research, collection of information, production and implementation have not been established yet.

There is also the preparation of a comprehensive plan to control pollution in Tehran, which is being done in cooperation with the Japan's International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This project, carried out by JICA on behalf of the Japanese government, and by AQCC on behalf of the Iranian government, has been divided into three stages.

The first part of the plan involves initial research, collection of available meteorological and air pollution information as well as investigation of economic and social conditions. The second stage entails measurement and analysis of studies made in the first phase, development of a simulation model of air pollution and forecasting future situations. The last phase is the drawing up of a comprehensive plan to battle air pollution.

Dr. Yokoyama, the supervisor of the Japanese team reported: "This plan has two main objectives, namely, the creation and institutionalization of a comprehensive plan for air pollution, and, the transfer of a suitable technology thereto."

He added: "In order to realize the objectives referred to above, first, information about quality of the environment, meteorology and the mechanism of air pollution distribution will be collected and the sources of pollutants will be identified."

"Various methods of air pollution will be investigated by the Japanese group. For example, the quality of fuel for stationary sources is highly important. Other points are reducing sulfur in fuel as well as facilitating sulfur and nitrogen removal for combustion gases. In case of mobile sources such as cars, the adoption of standards capable of controlling and restricting existing poisonous gases, or making traffic more mobile and orderly will lead to reduction of pollution," Dr. Yokoyama continued.

The project's timetable is 22 months. The first progress report is for presentation a year after the project has been started. In July 1996, the mid-term report will be presented on the basis of measured and predicted analytical activities and the final report will be submitted in December of the same year.

It has been divulged by the AQCC directors that the budget for all studies carried out during the first phase by the Japanese group will be disbursed by Tokyo. The Iranian government, in turn, is responsible for allocating funds for the acquisition of the necessary information and provision of the expenses of the Iranian staff.

Representatives of the ministries of oil, industries, health and medical education as well as meteorological and environmental organizations, as members of the advisory and executive group, will also cooperate with the Japanese group.

On the whole, it seems that the implementation of this project, which has both proponents and opponents within the country, is aimed mainly at collecting information on the basis of which to explain theoretical programs for pollution reduction in Tehran city. And similar to other research programs, it lacks any guarantee of execution.

Reacting to the above-mentioned project, some people believe that sufficient information and statistics connected with pollutant sources in the city have already been prepared by Iranian experts, who are believed to be in a better position to determine practical methods to counter pollution, considering that they are fully aware of the cultural, social and economic conditions in Tehran. According to this group, it is not clear yet what the Japanese government will gain by pushing through with this venture.

Proponents of the program maintain that Japan, having enough experience and the technical know-how in combating air pollution in cities like Tokyo, can consolidate the information collected by Iranian experts, and propose accurate and scientific plans to fight the contamination of the city air.

What can be inferred from the statements made by Dr. Yokoyama of the Japanese group, and Dr. Shafiepur, an AQCC official, is that practical and executive experience to implement such a project is lacking, and the unfamiliarity with the social, cultural and economic environment prevailing in Iran and particularly in Tehran, casts doubt on the performance of the Japanese group.

In addition, the methods announced by the Japanese group for decreasing and controlling pollution, such as the reduction of sulfur in fuel, materials quality, improving traffic mobility, control of gas emissions from car exhausts; all these have already been enforced by organizations in charge of pollution control in the city. What Tehran really needs is a rapid and practical way for pollution reduction.