Air pollution cost Bogotá nearly $1 billion USD in 2014 in the form of premature deaths, heart disease, cancer, respiratory illness, and other complications, according to a recent study from researchers at Colombia’s Universidad La Salle.
While transportation — particularly the many exhaust-belching buses in the capital — are the most obvious cause of pollution, the study shows that general industry and business, as well as dust, erosion, and forrest fires, also contribute greatly to the problem.
Jorge Eduardo Pachón, head of the Universidad La Salle research group known as CLIMA (Centro Lasallista de Investigación y Modelación Ambiental), noted that the findings look at the result airborne impurities as well as gases, including carbon dioxide and ozone.
The investigators included these and other factors into their model design for air quality, which in addition to gauging citywide contamination levels also measures the severity of the problem in the different zones of the capital. The southwest of Bogotá, covering the neighborhoods of Bosa and Fontibón, is the hardest-hit area, according to Bogotá-based governmental agency IDEAM. (Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales).
“Air contamination is a huge risk for humans,” said Pachón. “It is different than water contamination because we get to choose to not drink it, but we have to breathe the air around us all the time. Many times we breathe air with elements that can be dangerous — not only for us but for the ecosystem, too.”
The full study was released this week at a conference for public health and air quality in the southwestern Colombian city of Cali. In addition to Pachón and his team, the Fourth Air Quality and Public Health Colombian and International Conference (CASAP), which took place from September 6-8, featured presentations and research from area experts from the Universidad de Los Andes, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.
“These kind of results are important and they are just a bit of the whole investigation that we presented in Cali,” said Victor Marulanda, a member of CLIMA. “Hopefully this will make people aware of the issues of poor air, and we will keep on studying to find solutions and better options.”
Pachón, who is also a professor of engineering at La Salle, explained that there are two different ways to measure contamination in the air depending on the size of the particles, including dust, ashes, concrete, pollen, and even metallic elements. Those with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less are referred to as PM10, while the smaller problematic particles for humans are called PM2.5 “These particles have an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less — which means they are a hundred times smaller than a human hair,” said Pachón.
To generate their economic estimates, CLIMA used official information about air particles and gas emissions from the Bogotá Air Quality Monitoring Network (RMCAB), which is operated by Bogotá’s Environmental District Secretary. This data, along with CLIMA’s research, showed that January and February were the most contaminated months in 2014.
To better analyze the air contamination in Bogotá and help public officials understand the extent of the issue, CLIMA is working to develop low-cost instruments to measure air quality and strengthen measurement models in Colombia.
According to World Health Organization numbers from 2016, Bogotá is one of the most polluted cities in Latin America, after Santiago de Chile, San Salvador and Ciudad de México. In Colombia, Medellín and Bogotá, where air quality can be monitored by the public in real time, are the most affected cities. In March of this year, Medellín had to declare red alert for almost weeks for the high levels of particles in the air.
Photo credit: Jared Wade