IRAN: Dangerous levels of nitrate in Tehran’s drinking water reported


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Amid reports that water in parts of Tehran may be tainted with high levels of toxic nitrate, the Ministry of Power has handed out free bottles of water to an underprivileged suburb south of the city.Parliamentarian Hasan Ta’mini, a member of the Health and Medicare Commission, reported that authorities had hoped to address the water crisis within a week, though no solution has yet been announced.

Water consumption soars as the summer heat rises in densely populated Tehran. For neighborhoods and families struggling with overpopulation, endemic poverty and air pollution in the south, the heat, and dehydration, can be oppressive.


The Water and Sewage Waste Organization, an agency of the Ministry of Power, recently dug new wells to expand the water supply. Though most of the drinking water for Tehran typically flowed from the reservoirs of Karaj Amirkabir Dam, one hour west of Tehran, 30% of the water is now coming from these wells.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Dr. Marziyeh Vahid Dasjerdi announced that the amount of nitrate found in the drinking water pipes in parts of Tehran exceeded the appropriate level, posing a serious threat to city-dwellers’ health.

The director-general of the Water and Sewage Waste Organization, Mohammad Parvaresh, denied the claim of a nitrate threat, claiming that all water was uncontaminated and safe to drink.

However, both the ministries of Power and Health decided last week that free bottles of water would be distributed to residents of Yafabad, an economically underprivileged suburb in south Tehran. Both ministries, it is reported, concurred behind closed doors that nitrate levels exceeded the accepted standard in the disadvantaged southern part of the capital.

The origin of the nitrate contamination is unknown. However, the issue was raised back in January 2009, reported the Mehr News Agency, by the director of Tehran’s office in the Environment Ministry, Mohammad-Baqer Saduq. He publicly stated that Iran’s nitrate levels were highest in Tehran and had become toxic.

Large amounts of nitrate in drinking water are dangerous for infants, as nitrate poisoning targets those 6 months old and younger. When too much nitrate enters the infant’s digestive system, it is absorbed by bacteria and transforms into nitrite. Nitrite combines with hemoglobin, meant to circulate oxygen through the blood, to create methemoglobin, which can no longer transfer oxygen effectively.

Nitrate can seep into drinking water from a variety of sources, including septic systems, animal waste, commercial fertilizer and decaying organic matter. Improperly dug wells may lead to nitrate contamination as a limited amount of soil and rock cannot filter the water between the soil surface and the groundwater.

The exact amount of nitrate in Tehran’s drinking water has not been reported.

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Becky Lee Katz in Beirut

Upper photo: Residents in south Tehran suffer from desperate living conditions, forced to erect shanty towns. Credit: Iranian Students News Agency

Lower photo: Karaj Amirkabir Dam, outside Tehran, cannot accommodate the drinking water needs of the population. Credit: Payvand News