Iranians worry over frequent chemical poisonings in girls’ schools


Mar 6, 2023

Protesting has resumed in Iran. This time, it is not because of the hijab controversy. It is because of the alleged poisoning of girls students in schools. Beginning in November last year, there have been reports that there was chemical poisoning of female students in Qom. Last week, the total of students affected had risen to approximately 1,000 across different provinces. 

Last month when the weird sickness broke out in Qom, Iranian Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said the symptoms displayed by the students included nausea, muscle weakness, and tiredness. Footage shared on social media showed that students in various parts of the country had been affected. 

As of last week, students in seven girls’ schools in the city of Ardabil and three others in Tehran have reported cases of severe ailments connected with the alleged poisoning. Einollahi said officials took several samples from the students and the results showed that there were no microbes or viruses. However, parents and students affected by the weird ailments have reported that the source was a substance they inhaled. 

What the victims are saying

Although there have been different opinions regarding the source of the illness, almost every student or victim and their parents have said something similar. Something was inhaled. What could that be? 

One student in Shahryar, near Tehran, told BBC Percsia that her classmate smelled “something very strange and “so unpleasant like rotten fruit but much more pungent.” She added that the following day, many students and one of the teachers in the school fell ill. 

“When I went home, I was feeling dizzy and sick, my mum was worried cause I was so pale and out of breath,” she added. “Fortunately I recovered soon. Most of the kids in our school recovered in 24 hours.”

A lady, whose daughter also fell ill in a similar manner, said the same thing as Shahyrar. She said her daughter inhaled an unhealthy substance, which resulted in the ailment. 

“My daughter and two of her friends say they heard something like an explosion and immediately afterwards an unpleasant smell – something like burned plastic filled the air,” the parent told the BBC.

“They were asked to leave the class and go into the yard. Many of the students started collapsing in the yard. There are kids with asthma and heart problems in my daughter’s class,” the parent added.

Another mother told CNN last week that her daughter spent two days at a hospital in Qom alongside other students and staff. She said her daughter experienced nausea, shortness of breath and numbness in her left leg and right hand.

“Now she has trouble with her right foot and has difficulty walking,” the mother said.

While officials are still investigating what is truly happening in the girls’ schools, most victims have confirmed that they inhaled something that could be poisonous. But what do the officials of the Iranian government say? 

What officials say

Until now, the Iranian government has not identified the cause of the unhealthy happenings in female schools nationwide. Last month, the deputy minister of Health, Younes Panahi, admitted that there was chemical poisoning, but not compound chemicals used in warfare and the symptoms were not contagious. However, his words as reported by IRNA suggested that it was a deliberate attack on the female students to discourage them from pursuing their dreams. 

“After the poisoning of several students in Qom … it became clear that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” Younes Panahi said. The deputy minister would later retrace his words, saying he was misquoted. 

However, Iran’s interior minister said samples collected were being studied and a result would soon be published. 

“In field studies, suspicious samples have been found, which are being investigated… to identify the causes of the student’s illness, and the results will be published as soon as possible,” Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said as reported by IRNA.

However, the Iranian government has warned foreign governments not to interfere with its internal affair and draw hasty conclusions when investigations were still on. 

“It is one of the immediate priorities of Iran’s government to pursue this issue as quickly as possible and provide documented information to resolve the families’ concerns and to hold accountable the perpetrators and the causes,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said.

Owing to the recent protests following the death of a young Iranian lady in the custody of the country’s morality police, some have suggested that the chemical poisoning was a way of punishing the girls that joined the demonstrations. There are other suggestions that extreme Islamic groups could be responsible for the act as they try to discourage education for girls.

Poisonings in school cannot be accidental

One would have assumed that the poisonings were accidental should they happen in only one or two schools. Since the incident happened in different regions of the country, it is safe to conclude that it was not accidental. One would wonder why the poisonings are limited to girls’ schools. 

Jamileh Kadivar, an Iranian politician, said the frequency of the incidents was an indication that they are deliberate and there is a specific intent in the mind of the perpetrator(s).

She said: “The continuity and frequency of poisonings in schools during the past three months prove that these incidents cannot be accidental and are most likely the result of organized group actions directed by think tanks and aimed at specific goals.”

Most parents are worried about the safety of their daughters but not their sons because there had not been a report of the chemical attack in any boys’ school in the country.


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