Coronavirus and pollution, a lethal cocktail for contaminated Mexico City

A paradox overwhelms the polluted Mexican capital: while it tries to eliminate the transit of people and vehicles to stop the coronavirus, the rise in energy consumption in homes due to the lockdown and other chronic factors prevent the elimination of other airborne particles that can increase the lethality of COVID-19.

Coronavirus and pollution, a deadly cocktail for contaminated Mexico City
Coronavirus and pollution, a deadly cocktail for contaminated Mexico City

TheGovernment of Mexico City has been reporting "bad" air quality on its website for several days, and has recommended that citizens not engage in sports because of a "high" and even "very high" health risk at some points during the day.

With classes and non-essential economic activities suspended, vehicle traffic has dropped by nearly 60%, according to official data. And it will drop even more, since the city government has resumed the "Hoy No Circular" (No Driving Today) program, which prevents all vehicles from taking to the streets on one day of the week.

Other sources of pollution

In the Megalopolis of the Valley of Mexico Metropolitan Area, composed of the capital and five neighboring states in constant interaction -Puebla, Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Morelos and the State of Mexico-, there are 400 open-air dumps, whose garbage generates a methane gas that causes ozone when the temperature rises to 30 degrees Celsius. In this territory of 30 million people, there are some 50,000 industrial boilers, many of them in hotels and shops that continue to operate despite the emergency.

The boilers burn gas or diesel, a fuel used by the 350,000 cargo trucks and buses that circulate in the area, and which in Mexico is distributed by the state-run oil company Pemex with 500 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, when it should have 15 ppm in order not to contaminate.

The time of year does not play in favor of dispersing the contaminants, due to the lack of rain and wind, and the increase in consumption of heaters and stoves in the houses due to the confinement, as well as the forest fires.

The National Forestry Commission reported a daily average of more than 50 active forest fires. Although none were close to the capital, their ashes did reach it because of the winds, as happened with the contamination of the Pemex refinery in Tula, in the central state of Hidalgo.

Another black spot is the capital's airport, which each year generates 12 million tons of carbon dioxide and eight million tons of nitrogen oxide.

Among the contaminants reported by the capital's government are the so-called PM2.5 particles, which because of their tiny size can penetrate the bloodstream and organs, causing serious diseases.