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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

In the last three months, hundreds of Iranian students, mainly girls, have become sick. They are being hospitalized for symptoms of respiratory, neurological, and cardiac problems. Poison is the suspected cause. This is happening all across the country, at least 100 schools in 25 different provinces have reported students falling ill. The motive behind the poisonings is unknown, but officials seem to think that they may have been deliberate. Cases of poisonings go back to November of last year, but only now are major media outlets reporting about them. The cases are continuing to increase, and people are calling for the government to do something about it.  

The poisoned students have been “hospitalized after having difficulty breathing and experiencing heart palpitations, nausea and numbness in their limbs.” Some Iranians have placed blame on the government for the severity of the situation, they feel that many of the poisonings could have been avoided had the government not repeatedly dismissed the cases. Now, “teams from the Intelligence Ministry and security forces” are starting an investigation. Though the government has started to investigate the cases, worried parents have recently started gathering in front of the Education Ministry, urging the government to do more.  

Most of the poisoned students came from all girls’ schools. Students have reported odd odors within their schools, claiming they smelled things like tangerine and rotten fish. Through toxicology tests run by the Health Ministry, the toxins found within the schools have been identified as nitrogen gas. This identification has led to the head of Parliament’s education committee, Alireza Monadi, stating that these poisonings are deliberate attacks. According to the Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi, the cause of the illnesses was “a kind of mild poison.” While it is true that toxicologists found nitrogen gas within the schools, there are still tests being run on the students who were hospitalized. On March 5th, it was stated that the results of the blood tests from 25 students, all from different cities, conveyed a lower “MCV number […] than normal.” An MCV is the Mean Corpuscular Volume, which measures the average size of red blood cells. Red blood cells are “responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.” This suggests that there is a consistency among the students from different cities, likely due to the same poison. Authorities have officially accused the enemies of the Islamic Republic “of using the attacks to undermine the clerical establishment,” although not everyone believes this. The poisonings are suspected to be a direct sabotage of female education. There is also worry that Islamic extremist groups are involved.  

The sabotage of girls’ education is alarming to Iranians because under the Islamic Republic, it “has not been contested or challenged for the past four decades.” Women and girls are important to society and the work force, and their education is highly valued. However, there is another potential reason for these poisonings. Women and girls have recently been leading protests against the Islamic Republic. Some activists are speculating that the government is targeting young girls and poisoning them due to their recent role in the protests. If this is the case, it would not be the first time that the government has targeted them. “Security agents have raided dozens of high schools and interrogated, beaten, and injured students,” just for participating in the protests against the government.  

 As of March 3rd, the United Nations has gotten involved. The human rights office called for a “transparent investigation into the suspected attacks” and claimed that multiple countries have mentioned their concern about the situation, including the United States and Germany. Iran does not appreciate the input of the UN or other countries and is confident that its government has the investigation under control. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the situation on Monday, stating that “authorities should seriously pursue the issue” and “if it is proven deliberate, those perpetrators of this unforgivable crime should be sentenced to capital punishment.”  

 The poisoning of schoolgirls is a concerning situation on many levels. Not only are young girls being put in danger, but they are possibly being deliberately targeted. This situation is still developing, and much remains unknown. Hopefully, the Iranian government can apprehend who is responsible and prevent any more students from being poisoned.  

gia is an editor and writer at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg chapter. she often writes articles about politics and books. she is studying english at the university of south florida. in the future, she plans to go to law school and then work in the book publishing industry. In her free time, she loves to read and write, and she can frequently be found browsing for new books at a bookstore or studying at the library. she will always have a book with her and will talk about books with anyone!