Weather also played a role in increased levels of smog this year in the Mexico City metropolitan area, raising concerns among health officials and environmentalists.
MEXICO CITY (CN) — Rising air pollution levels in the greater Mexico City area caused environmental authorities to issue more air quality alerts in the first half of 2022 than in 2021.
The Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis, which coordinates environmental programs between federal and municipal governments in the Valley of Mexico and surrounding metropolitan areas, has issued five air quality alerts so far in 2022, already exceeding the four issued the previous year.
While the return of economic and academic activity after the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections due to the omicron variant is partly to blame, that does not tell the whole story, according to Dr. Ana Rosa Moreno, Nobel Laureate of public health. researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
“It’s also due to the weather conditions, among them the high temperatures we had in the first months of the year,” said Moreno.
Mexico’s National Water Commission has issued three heat wave alerts so far this year. Temperatures in April and May reached 10 degrees Fahrenheit above seasonal averages.
The lack of strong spring winds also played a role in air quality issues this year, Moreno said, causing harmful gases and particulates to stagnate in the city.
When the air finally moves, pollution from Mexico City enters a contamination exchange system with other cities surrounding the Valley of Mexico, such as Pachuca, Cuernavaca, Toluca, and Puebla.
“It’s a very dynamic process,” Moreno said. “In particular, the pollution of Toluca and Pachuca is the product of industrial emissions and freight trucks, and it is in addition to that of the metropolitan area of the Valley of Mexico.”
This activity produces two types of harmful pollutants, according to Horacio Tovalín Ahumada, researcher in environmental medicine at UNAM.
Substances such as ozone and nitrogen oxides cause an immediate reaction, such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. These can exacerbate conditions like asthma and allergies.
The particles, however, have a more insidious effect on the human body. These particles, like sulphates and nitrates, are the product of the combustion of fuels, mainly diesel and, to a lesser extent, gasoline and natural gas.
“These can increase the risk of death from heart or cerebrovascular problems,” Tovalín said. “Here in Mexico City, we’re also seeing high levels of these particles aggravating health issues like bronchitis and emphysema.”
This effect was also seen during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Areas of the city with higher air pollution levels have seen higher death rates from the disease.
Greenpeace estimates that particulates – known as PM2.5 air pollution – caused up to 15,000 premature deaths in Mexico City in 2020. While pandemic restrictions in 2020 and 2021 have slightly reduced levels air pollution, PM2.5 air pollution has caused an estimated 8,800 deaths since January 1, 2021, according to Greenpeace’s calculator.
To reduce air pollution levels in the city, Tovalín recommended programs that incentivize the use of public transport and also urged his fellow citizens to be better consumers. He said the company needs to curb its love affair with SUVs and trucks.
“If you drive an SUV, you really end up hurting yourself, because you pollute a lot more than if you drive a sedan,” he said.
Tovalín is not alone in calling on the government to implement better programs to tackle air pollution in the capital. Earlier this month, a consortium of civil society organizations called the Citizen Air Quality Observatory called for stricter regulation of the vehicle inspection program in the metropolitan area.
“We have to promote programs again to deal with this, because we can’t stop breathing,” Tovalín said. “We can stop eating an unhealthy food or stop a harmful activity, but without breathing. We can’t stop doing this.
Courthouse News correspondent Cody Copeland is based in Mexico City.
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