Pollution causes 14,000 deaths a year in Mexico

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The Clean Air Institute just published an alarming report on air quality in Latin America; Mexico came in second to Brazil as the country with the most deaths every year caused by pollution. Mexico City has long been plagued by smog but according to the report, Monterrey is the city with the highest levels of Particle Pollution (PM10) in all of Latin America. The concentration of PM10 per cubic meter is 85.9 micrograms in Monterrey; the European Union limits member countries to maintaining levels of under 40 micrograms per cubic meter. Guadalajara’s pollution is also toxic (70.1 mcg/m3) and Mexico City’s looks almost clean by comparison (57.0 mcg/m3).


The report also analyzes ozone levels. Ozone is a gas made up of oxygen atoms and it’s highly reactive. We need it in the atmosphere to protect us from UV rays, but it’s dangerous when it comes into more direct contact with living tissue. According to Air Info Now: “The properties that make ozone a powerful cleaner, disinfectant, and bleaching agent also make ozone dangerous to living tissues. When it comes in contact with living tissues, like our lungs, ozone attacks and damages cells lining the airways, this causes swelling and inflammation. Some have compared ozone’s effect to a sunburn…inside your lungs.” Guadalajara has the highest ozone levels in Latin America, followed by León and then Monterrey and DF. Their only close competitors are Cochabamba, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador.

Pollution has been linked to a wide array of serious health problems, including cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer, premature birth and low birth weight, lung disease and early death syndrome.

The Clean Air Institute (CAI) and several other NGOs concluded that Mexico needs a federal air quality improvement policy as soon as possible. The director of CAI, Sergio Sanchez, noted that Mexico has no standardized techniques for collecting data or monitoring air quality. The director of atmospheric science at UNAM, María Amparo Martínez, said “one of the problems we have is lack of institutional capacity for monitoring all the different cities in the country.”

An article in Proceso published on April 5 titled “In Mexico, even the air kills us”, starts by observing that “most of the population (60%) ignores the quality of the air they are breathing, since the government fails to provide accurate information.” In fact, Mexico’s official “safe levels” of ozone, PM10 and PM2.5 are all significantly higher than the levels recommended by international environmental and health organizations, which allows the government to cheat by declaring that the pollution isn’t at dangerous levels (just don’t ask for a definition of “dangerous”.) Politicians have made a few lame attempts to reduce car dependence and promote a “green” image; the mayor of Saltillo started a bicycle sharing program in March, but the bicycles don’t work. The ex-governor of Jalisco cut the ribbon on two new sections of a major highway on a bicycle – the highway has no bicycle lane.

Mexico City has made some progress in the past twenty years and as indicated by the CAI report, its pollution is actually less noxious and dense than in other smaller Mexican cities. It has taken time and effort – the construction of Metrobus, adding cycling lanes, cutting the number of vehicles on the road by improved enforcement of “hoy no circula.” But it still has a long slog ahead.

Pollution is indeed the stuff of politicians’ nightmares: it kills constituents, but unlike smoking or fatty foods or alcohol, it’s not their problem to fix. Sure, you can tell people to risk their lives weaving in and out of traffic on bicycles or maybe suggest they don’t inhale when they step outside, but the reality is that any major air clean-up is going to fall on the shoulders of…what? The government? Regulations have to be enforced, public transportation invested in, air quality tested, dirty fuel use curtailed…the list goes on and the politicians yawn, roll over and dream of the next highway construction project bearing their name.



Cai Report Spanish

Animal Político, México 2do país de AL con más muertos por contaminación (Apr 24)

Air Info Now, What is Ozone?

Proceso, En México hasta el aire nos mata (Apr 5)