Air pollution in Guatemala is 9 times the WHO acceptable level

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The Air Quality Index (ICA) and PM2.5 air pollution in Guatemala City, according to the Swiss company IQAir, for April 9 at 3 p.m., is harmful to sensitive groups, according to maps they post on its official website.

The concentration of PM2.5 in Guatemala City is currently 8.9 times higher than the WHO’s annual air quality guide value, they say.

This is done in the midst of the fire that occurs in the landfill of kilometer 22, route to the Pacific, and that is in charge of Amsa. But two experts say it is conjunctural today, but air quality in the country has been going through serious problems for many years.

The index for now is 123 ICA – USA, and the main pollutant is PM2.5, which means the – concentration of particulate matter, of 2.5 micrometers in diameter per cubic meter.

Air quality monitoring stations located in Guatemala City, according to the research and water services department, water and air quality section of the National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (Insivumeh), report a category “very bad,” according to the Air Quality Index (ICA) corresponding to the methodology of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Therefore, indicates the Insivumeh, air quality can be harmful to health – at the moment.

According to the information of the Insivumeh the ICA is a rule ranging from 0 to 500 and states that the higher the value of the Index, the higher the level of air pollution.

This allows the incorporation of the concentrations of criterion pollutants into a single index, they reveal.

They divide them in this way: Tropospheric Ozone (O3); particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5); carbon monoxide (CO); sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The ICA is divided into six categories, says the Insivumeh, depending on the level of affectation to human health.

The categories are green, from 0 to 50, good; moderate, 51 to 100, moderate; orange, 101 to 150, harmful to health (sensitive groups); and red, 151 to 200, harmful to health. In addition, purple 201 to 300, very harmful to health and brown, 301 to 500, dangerous.

Although the case now not only influences the fire in the Amsa landfill, active forest fires are also taken into account, and they also appear in the monitoring of the Swiss company and Insivumeh itself.

The specialist in environmental and climate issues, Claudio Castañón, explains that air quality has had a media effect due to the fire of the dump, however, the quality has been more critical at other times.

Like many environmental issues, the quality of the air is having important media attention

But the quality has been more critical at other times, in the last year’s season Insivumeh z.13 recorded a maximum for PM2.5 in the early hours of 25 Dec, and for PM10 on 11

For example, in 2021, the Insivumeh station in zone 13 recorded a maximum for PM2.5 in the early morning of December 25, and for PM10 on January 11, both in the past year.

Castañón comments that there are other complicated points that – on the main routes you have a peak of about 7 hours and is not something new – but now more extreme – because previous monitoring of the Faculty of Pharmacy University of San Carlos (Usac), have concluded that it is necessary to implement a regulation of Vehicle Emissions.

Specialists consider that in the case of PM 2.5 pollutant, which are fine particles with less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, they can reach the pulmonary alveoli. These are mainly emitted by combustion processes of vehicles and industries, solid waste burning and pyrotechnics.

While the PM10 pollutant is solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere with less than 10 micrometers in diameter and are mainly emitted by the resuspension of dust from unpaved streets, soil erosion and marine aerosol.

Sebastián Charchalac, PhD in environmental engineering at the Division of Engineering Sciences of the University Center of the West (Cunoc) of Usac, comments that the maps shown on the websites consulted are stations that measure that parameter called PM 2.5, which indicates the amount of particles in the air.

What we see is that, suddenly, some stations in Guatemala City are already in orange or red. This means that there is a high presence of particles in the environment, explains Charchalac.

And where do those particles come from? Reflect. For example, explains Charchalac, some of the factories, the smog generated by vehicles. If there is erosion, if there is wind, that makes there much more particle in the air, he explains.

All these factors affect the presence of particles in the environment as such, but in this case what is observed is that there are some points where there are levels above the orange code already, he says.  

The specialist indicates that, due to the current conditions, due to the landfill fire, there has been an increase in ICA levels. Many of the stations are in orange and some have reached the red.

That is harmful and the necessary precautions must be taken, he says.

Charchalac explains that it is worth noting that in Guatemala City it is already very common for it to be at the orange level in terms of air quality. Now the exception is that it is in the red due to the current circumstances.

A report from the Air Quality Life Index, written by the University of Chicago in 2023, established that Guatemala was the city with the lowest air quality in Latin America. They compare it to famously polluted cities like Pune, India and Harbin and China.

For the analysis they used PM2.5 data, obtained in satellite form and compare air pollution in different countries and cities around the world.

In addition, they correlated the gap between city pollution data and the limits recommended by the international guides of the World Health Organization with the years of life expectancy lost to the population living in those countries and cities.

The USAC Air Laboratory has documented that the main cause of air pollution, by far the difference, is the vehicle load.

Traffic caused by more than 4.6 million vehicles in the country, many of which are in poor condition, quotes Rodolfo Girón, general manager of Ecological and Chemical Laboratory, S. A in a post on its website.

Charchalac agrees with Castañón that it is necessary to create vehicle emission regulations, but also to control the burning of garbage, and other components, which are currently done without any control. 

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Prensa Libre