What is the air quality forecast for Mexico?
Mexico is also officially known as the United Mexican States is a country in the southern portion of North America. It shares land borders with the USA, Belize and Guatemala. It has coastlines on the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In 2020, the estimated population was 126 million people.
At the beginning of 2021, Mexico was experiencing “Moderate” quality air with a US AQI reading of 68. This classification is in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Despite this “Moderate” position, in 2019 it was ranked as the 48th dirtiest city out of a total of 98.
The PM2.5 levels were recorded in recent years and the average figure for 2019 was 20.5 µg/m³. In 2017 the figure was 20.4 µg/m³ and in 2018 it was 19.7 µg/m³ so the level is almost remaining the same.
What is the government doing about air pollution in Mexico?
In April 2019, only 3 out of the 20 monitoring stations for ozone (O3), PM10 and PM2.5 met the official standards. The poor air quality that prevails in the country kills 17,000 people every year, 1,680 of these deaths correspond to children under 5 years of age.
Within the framework of World Health Day, several organisations spoke with one voice and launched an urgent call to the authorities to prevent and address the serious problem of air pollution that prevails in the country and that violates the right to health of millions of Mexicans.
The effects on the population due to air quality represent one of the most considerable pressures that the public health system maintains in the predicament. Action by the three levels of government is urgently needed to address the air quality crisis that has persisted for decades in various cities in the country and thereby guarantee the health coverage of the population. The regulatory framework must be updated and the most polluting sectors must be forced to reduce their emissions to guarantee the population's right to a healthy environment and clean air.
Citizens require clean transportation systems and healthy streets, where girls and boys have the opportunity to enjoy public space and be active, without running the risk of suffering permanent consequences to their health. Air quality is essential for this. Sustainable and efficient transportation options are required to increase people's quality of life and allow them to exercise their right to a healthy environment.
While the problem continues to grow, state governments have been unable to put an effective solution to the root problem. People do not have effective, clean and safe alternatives to mobility within the cities. This, together with a lax and outdated regulatory framework that determines the maximum limits for pollutants in the air, putting human health as a priority, has more than 90 per cent of the population breathing polluted air. Additionally, the report clearly indicates that the State is not fulfilling its duty to generate valid and timely information on the air that is breathed.
What are the main causes of air pollution in Mexico?
Many factors have contributed to this situation: industrial growth, a sharp increase in the population level (from three million in 1950 to over 120 million today), and the proliferation of vehicles. More than 3.5 million vehicles of which 30 per cent of them are more than 20 years old are registered in the country.
In 2019, one of the more unusual causes of pollution was brought on by wildfires. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources reported that at least 66 fires had been reported in the capital and another 130 in the State of Mexico, which borders Mexico City.
The smoke and particles generated by the fire had also been joined by other environmental conditions that had contributed to the worsening of the situation. These were that the temperatures were above average and there was a low level of rainfall and prolonged drought. Couple these to higher solar radiation and a high-pressure system that prevented the dispersion of contaminants. The topographical location of Mexico City plays a large part in air cleanliness. Mexico City is in a basin surrounded by mountains, which almost forms a bowl-like container. If we add to this that the city is at a considerable height, it also explains why historically it has been a place where pollution is trapped.
That although they have not been pointed out on this occasion, it must be taken into account that the frequent activity of volcanic Popocatepetl in the past has been related by the government to an increase in the levels of contamination in Mexico City, as it already happened this year.
The use of organic fuels for cooking and heating is likely to be the largest source of indoor air pollution on a global scale. Nearly half the world cooks with solid fuels such as wood, crop residues, agricultural waste, and dried animal dung, with wood being the most commonly used.
When used in simple cooking stoves, these fuels emit substantial amounts of toxic pollutants. In households with limited ventilation (as is common in many developing countries), exposures experienced by household members, particularly women and young children who spend a large proportion of their time indoors, have been measured to be many times higher than World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and national standards. In this regard, the number of annual deaths in developing countries associated with domestic biomass combustion is considerable.
What can be done to improve air quality in Mexico?
Mexico lost 262,000 hectares of natural forest in 2018, according to the most up-to-date data. One of the main causes of the loss of forests and woodland is the change in land use that is carried out, above all, for the expansion of livestock and agriculture. In some areas of the country, deforestation is associated with the boom in crops such as soybeans, African palm or avocado. However, it was pointed out that around 90 per cent of the changes in land use that are registered in the country are made illegally. If this situation is to change it is essential to strengthening inspection and surveillance systems. Mexico has a goal of achieving zero deforestation by 2030.
The pollution problem in the city needs to be tackled at source by modifying mobility systems in such a way that they give priority to public transport, mainly electric, to active transport (such as cycling and walking), in order to reduce the emissions generated by transport that are currently the main cause of air pollution within the city centre.
Likewise, it is imperative to update and expand environmental health standards to harmonise with the health protection limits established by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to include sectors that are not adequately regulated and are responsible for the most pollutants, such as transportation (Comprehensive Mobility Plan) and industry abide by limits that protect health and seek alternatives to operate, as well as forcing cities to strengthen their programs to improve air quality.
The government has several plans to try to reduce the emission levels, but they require citizen participation, which is not always forthcoming. Some of which include vehicular restrictions, increase of green areas and expanding bicycle accessibility and pedestrianised areas.
What are the health risks associated with Mexico’s air quality?
The health effects of air pollution range from premature death, overweight and obesity, brain infarction, heart disease, various types of cancer, with the most prevalent being lung cancer and acute or chronic respiratory diseases, asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, to less severe but more common effects such as respiratory distress, headache, dizziness, irritation and eye inflammation.
Even young, strong healthy people can suffer from the effects of air pollution. The actual risk and adverse effects depend on many variants. The current state of health, the type of pollutant and the concentration level as well as the length of time exposed to it.
Very high levels of air pollution can have immediate effects such as aggravating cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, adding stress to the heart and lungs, which must work harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs. Cells within the respiratory system can soon become irrevocably damaged.
Longer periods of time exposed to polluted air can have permanent health effects such as accelerated ageing of the lungs which in turn leads to loss of capacity and delayed functionality. It can also shorten life expectancy.
Those most at risk are those with heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure. Together with pregnant women, children under the age of 14 years, senior citizens and those who need to work in an outdoor environment.
What is Mexico doing about transportation and the pollution it causes?
Some experts believe that emissions from cars and other road-going vehicles contribute to air pollution in Mexico. In order for a car to move through the CDMX, it needs to go through a verification process first, which, depending on the number of pollutants it issues, will be allowed to transit on certain days of the week. However, following new rules and regulations that came into effect may have contributed to loosening controls and allowing more vehicles on the roads, something that the city government denies.
How does Mexico measure air pollution?
A National Report on Air Quality was conducted in 2017 and the results were alarming. The report covers 20 air quality monitoring systems (SMCA) in 18 states in the country, including 177 monitoring stations in 71 cities and metropolitan areas.
In the case of ozone (O3) monitoring, out of 177 only 102 stations presented valid information and of these only 8 complied with the standard.
For suspended particles smaller than 10 micrometres (PM10), of 87 stations that presented valid information, only 8 complied with the standard.
Regarding particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), of 48 stations that presented valid information, only 1 complied with the standard.
Under these conditions, it is impossible to guarantee health to Mexicans. The same WHO has pointed out that air pollution is considered the greatest environmental threat facing humanity and by 2050, air pollution will become the number one cause of mortality, above the lack of access to drinking water and sanitation.
What is the cost of Mexico’s polluted air to society?
Efforts to assess the cost of air pollution in Mexico had focused on direct medical costs such as medicines and hospital visits and on productivity losses. Not only do people who get sick lose days from work, but also mothers who stay at home to take care of the children who get sick and need to stay away from school.
The research concluded that the reduction of PM10 would yield the greatest health and financial benefits. Reducing both ozone and PM10 by just 10 per cent would result in average “savings” of US $760 million annually. In human terms that would equate to 33,287 fewer emergency room visits and 4,188 fewer hospital admissions for respiratory distress. In addition, it would lead to 266 fewer infant deaths a year.
Questionnaires were completed by 4,000 residents in a cross-section of as diversified a group as possible. The results were often surprising. 30 per cent of the residents thought the government’s policy regarding air pollution was self-serving, whilst another 30 per cent believed the results to be false.
It was decided that most people do not consult official figures before making a decision. Instead, they base their perceptions on what they experience such as breathing in car exhaust in narrow, clogged, downtown streets.
“If people see the mountains, they say it’s a good day. If they can’t, they say pollution is high.”
A further 40 per cent could not identify any of the government programs to improve air quality. The remainder considered them necessary evils, looking on them as restrictions rather than preventive measures.
Equally distressing is that although everyone recognises the pollution problem, people don’t think that they are responsible for it. A high percentage blame emissions from factories. A smaller number blame vehicle exhaust, which is the source of 75 per cent of emissions. They say that the problem is in other areas such as in the northwest, in the city centre, in fact anywhere other than where they live. Other people are mainly responsible such as my neighbours, maybe, but not me, not my car. My family and lifestyle are not to blame.