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Pollution link to mysterious illness hitting thousands in Ahwaz

Thousands of citizens of the world's most polluted city, Ahwaz, have been admitted to hospital in recent days with severe breathing difficulties that doctors are blaming on air pollution.

The head of Jondi Shapour medical school, Dr Sayed Mohammad Hassan Sarmast, suggested that smoke from local industries could be the reason for a mysterious illness which has seen at least 3,000 people admitted to hospital for treatment, with two transferred to intensive care. Many suspect air pollution has been made worse by recent heavy rain.

Mohammad Alawi, director of the provincial health centre, said that over 4,000 were taken ill over a period of just two days. He suggested acid rain is a major contributor to the outbreak

Abdullah Tamimi, member of parliament for Shadegan (Fallahiyeh), called on officials for urgent action to find the causes for the outbreak. Stubble burning on sugar cane plantations following harvest and industrial pollutants have been cited as causes by Ahwaz member of parliament Nasser Soudani.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has repeatedly listed Ahwaz City as the world's worst for air pollution. While the Iranian government has tried to blame dust storms from Iraq, many local residents claim a combination of heavy industry, aridification caused by the dam construction and the destruction of the marshes as well as massive sugar cane monoculture plantations are the main causes.

Iranian scientists have warned that such high levels of air pollution are having a major impact on unborn children with premature births and low body weight as well as serious neurological and medical problems, including autism.