* Tehran suffering acute air pollution
* New traffic curbs aim to ease crisis
* Anti-sanctions emergency fuel not to blame-officials
By Ramin Mostafavi
TEHRAN, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Acute air pollution in Tehran cannot be blamed on gasoline produced in an emergency plan to foil sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme, officials said on Wednesday, instead blaming the weather and domestic heaters.
A weather system has trapped air in the Iranian capital for four weeks, posing a major health risk for people with respiratory problems and pushing up hospital admissions by more than 20 percent, according to the Health Ministry.
In an attempt to clear the air, several public holidays were declared and cars can now only circulate on alternate days, squeezing even more people into Tehran’s buses and metro.
The severe smog occurred a few months after Iran announced it had become self-sufficient in gasoline by implementing an emergency plan to refine gasoline in petrochemcial plants, foiling international sanctions. Previously it needed to import up to 40 percent of its automotive fuel needs.
“Low quality of vehicle fuel the main cause of air pollution,” ran the headline of Ettelaat daily, one of many newspapers pondering the reasons for the smog.
Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi denied the emergency gasoline production was at fault and said Iran’s Western foes were trying to spread rumours to further undermine an economy they have tried to hit by sanctions.
“This rumour of Tehran’s air pollution getting intensified due to the production and sale of non-standard gasoline comes from beyond Iran’s borders,” Donya-ye Eqtesad daily quoted him as saying.
“The West has lost the sanction game to Iran and this false news is the last episode of the unwise sanction scenario.”
Traders told Reuters that Iran, long an importer of gasoline, had exported its first cargo in August, but said it had a low research octane number (RON) of 75, dubbed “Iraq grade” as it meets the standards of Iran’s war-torn neighbour but would not be allowed for sale, for example, in Europe.
Mohammad Royanian, the official in charge of Iran’s transport fuel management, said this was untrue.
“Gas heaters and water heaters are the main reason for the increase in Tehran’s air pollution,” he told Donya-ye Eqtesad “Right now, the octane of gasoline produced from petrochemicals is near 100.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said sanctions, imposed on Iran to pressure it to curb a nuclear programme many countries fear is aimed at developing atomic bombs, have had no impact on the economy.
But he called on them to be lifted in order to make talks with major world powers, which resumed this week after more than a year, “fruitful”.
Media have reported a scheme to dump water over the city from aircraft, something meteorologists say will have no impact.
Iran’s meteorological office said rain forecast for next week would help clear the pollution. (Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri; Editing by Janet Lawrence)