* Iranian cities regularly blighted by heavy smog
* Gov't offices, banks, schools shut for days in Tehran
By Marcus George
DUBAI, Jan 9 Iran's state-owned oil refining
company denied on Wednesday that poor quality,
domestically-produced fuel is contributing to Tehran's worsening
pollution crisis, saying that its gasoline met refining
Thick yellow smog has shrouded the Iranian capital for most
of the past week, prompting the closure of government offices,
banks and schools for several days and official calls for
residents to leave the city or remain indoors.
Residents are often subjected to severe pollution created by
heavy traffic and large-scale industry. On windless days the
particles get trapped in the city by the surrounding Alborz
mountains to form noxious and harmful air.
But the recent increase in smog is blamed by many on
domestically produced fuel, the English-language Tehran Times
reported this week, asserting that Iran's car manufacturers
continue to produce cars with inefficient combustion systems.
In response, the National Iranian Oil Refining and
Distribution Company said in a statement: "The increase in the
rate of air pollution in large cities in Iran has not been
caused by products from (Iran's petrochemical producers)."
It said tests demonstrated that Iranian gasoline met
national standards and was "comparable" to the products of other
Officials in the Islamic Republic have previously stated
that around a third of Iran's domestically produced gasoline and
diesel meets Euro-4 and Euro-5 standards.
To ease the smog, the government ordered the temporary
closure of factories and is more rigorously enforcing a traffic
limitation scheme that allows cars to drive in the city on
alternate days depending on whether the final digit of their
number plates is odd or even.
But concern is rising among health officials over what many
regard as a worsening pollution problem and there are calls for
the government to do more to tackle it.
Earlier this week, a health ministry adviser, Hassan
Aghajani, appeared on national television saying that over the
past 10 days there had been a 30 percent increase in hospital
admissions in Tehran caused by people with breathing problems.
Aghajani said more than 4,000 people had died from the
effects of air pollution in the 12 months from March 2011.
The use of nationally refined gasoline has increased
dramatically over the last two years as sanctions imposed by the
United States and European Union over Iran's nuclear programme
have cut imports of refined fuels.
"There is no strong determination on the part of officials
to reduce air pollution, and the citizens will continue to pay
the price for this negligence," the Tehran Times said in a news
While the worst the smog has cleared and offices have
reopened, the experience lingers among many Tehran residents.
"The situation was really bad. We could smell the pollution
in the air. Leaving houses made you feel sick and gave you
headaches," a 30-year-old engineer, who asked not to be named,
said by email.
(Reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich)