When the potent mix of cold weather and windless days hits Tehran, so does pollution so thick that it shuts down buildings and stings the eyes and throat, prompting calls to stay indoors. Schools, banks, and government buildings were closed for five days last week in an effort to cut down on the yearly yellow fog that blankets the city, the New York Times reports. State radio told listeners that to go outside Saturday would essentially be "suicide." "It feels as if even God has turned against us," says one resident.
The Times puts the pollution in context: Tehran claims almost four times the polluting particles per cubic meter as Los Angeles, and three Iranian towns are on the World Health Organization's list of the 10 most polluted cities on the planet. Now, respiratory disease, heart disease, and certain cancers are on the rise, according to the country's health ministry. Part of the problem, according to experts, is Iran's domestically made gasoline, a replacement for refined imports banned by US sanctions beginning in 2010. But the government refuses to cite the gasoline as a cause, though a report on the capital found "healthy" air days fell from 300 in 2009 to less than 150 two years later.