The Severity of Air Pollution in Mexico City

The Severity of Air Pollution in Mexico City

On Monday, May 16, the Mexico City government withdrew the phase 1 environmental contingency. The recent weather has dispersed the air pollutants and reduced pollutant concentration to regular levels. The Mexico City government will continue implementing the “Hoy no Circula” program, which forbids vehicles with certain number endings on their license plates to drive on a certain day. “Hoy no Circula” has reduced city traffic and cut down on carbon emissions, but the question remains: what triggered the need for programs like these in the first place?

Mexico City’s population grew dramatically in the past century, from over two million in 1950 to over 20 million in our present day. This drastic and quick population growth generated a huge amount of waste and pollution. The UN labeled the city ‘most polluted in the world’ in 1992, and, since then, the government has implemented measures such as the “Hoy no Circula” program mentioned above. However, emissions continued to rise steadily, and, between March and April of this year, a combination of lack of wind and rain and too much sunshine covered the city with a blanket of smog.

The conditions were so dire that the government declared a phase 2 contingency, only declared when the air quality is extremely bad and the IMECA (Metropolitan Air Quality Index) scale marks over 200 points. Children were not allowed to leave their classrooms for sports outdoors, and public transportation swelled as the government doubled the traffic regulation program. “We’re breathing in pollution every day,” explained Adriana Lobo, director of the Center for Sustainable Transport. “What we need to do is go on a diet from cars. We need to put our health above the right for cars to circulate.” The air pollution levels were so high that birds were dying in mid air and falling to the ground. Breathing became a health risk.

Weather heavily influences air pollution, evident when weather cleared the skies enough for the government to end phase 1 contingency last week. Meanwhile, the city will return traffic control to its regular levels.