Thousands hospitalized by acid rain in Iran’s most polluted city

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Days after the first rain arrived Nov. 1 across many Iranian cities, nearly 6,000 people checked into hospitals complaining of shortness of breath in Iran’s Khuzestan province.

According to Ahmad Reza Lahijanzadeh, the director of environmental protection for the Khuzestan province, high levels of nitrate in the air had caused acid rain. Lahijanzadeh said that along with his office, the deputy health minister, meteorological experts and other officials are conducting an investigation into the “causes and risk factors of this unprecedented increase in respiratory problems.”

At an open session of parliament, Iranian parliament member Seyed Mohammad Hassan Abutarabifard from Khuzestan province addressed the issue and asked officials to take the matter seriously. Abutarabifard said, “The administration and parliament and environmental protection agency have to take serious steps in order to identify the hazards.”

The president of Ahvaz University Medical and Health Services said, “It is my guess and estimation that chemical materials from the factories in Khuzestan and their runoff during the rain could be a factor in this incident, but right now we really don’t know what caused this and we cannot give exact opinions.”

According to the latest report by the World Health Organization, the Iranian city of Ahvaz is the world’s most polluted city. Three other Iranian cities also rank in the top 10 most polluted cities of the world, with Sanandaj at third, Kermanshah at sixth and Yasouj at ninth.

Ahvaz is the capital of Iran’s Khuzestan province, which produces most of the country’s oil. The southwest province, like most polluted cities, is home to a large number of factories and other heavy industry.

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, of the nearly 6,000 people who checked into hospitals, approximately 90% of them were from Ahvaz. Dr. Mohammad Hossein Sarmast, president of Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences, said that there could be even more patients who felt symptoms but did not check into a hospital. He said that considering those who treated themselves at home, or checked into hospitals and clinics but did not leave a record, an extra 20 to 30% should be added to official statistics of those affected by the acid rain.

In an interview with Hamshahri, Ali Reza Najafi, head of public relations for Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences, said that in addition the pollution from oil wells and other heavy industries in the province, there are also other factors that lead to pollution, such as “burning trash, tires and farms.” He advised the ill, those who suffer from asthma, the elderly and children not to travel or to wear masks.

Mohammad Alavi, director of the Center of Health for Khuzestan, said that all hospitals in the province would be on alert.

In addition to causing health problems, acid rain damages buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.