When looking at Disease Control Priorities, a great place to start is with the most unique air pollution problem suffered by the residents of Mexico City.

If we want to look at clearing the smog, fighting air pollution, and understanding how to best do it, Mexico City is a brilliant place to start in making an analysis. Way back in 1992, the United Nations (amongst others) described the air quality of Mexico City as the worst on earth. A place that was the most polluted, and the most dangerous to human health.

Over the next six years, Mexico City earned an unwanted reputation as being “the most dangerous city in the world for children to live in”.

But how warranted is that claim? Also, what lessons have been learned, and how has Mexico City fought back from this unwanted label?

Why Mexico City Is In An Almost Unique Air Pollution Situation

Mexico City is hamstrung by its geographic location. Let’s describe it to you so you can understand the unique problem it faces.

Mexico City is located within the massive crater of a long-extinct volcano. This puts it high above sea level, in fact, more than 2000 m above sea level.

At higher altitudes like this, there are low atmospheric oxygen levels. This means that there is a higher proportion of incomplete fuel combustion. Basically, engines just don’t work as efficiently to cleanly burn the fuel. This leads to higher emissions, especially dangerous greenhouse gases and key pollutants like carbon monoxide.

To make things worse, this altitude and hate also translate into a more intensified level of daily sunlight throughout the year. Higher levels of strong sunlight translate into higher levels of smog.

The smog that is produced acts as a curtain over the city’s atmosphere, a bit like the glass bubble over Springfield in the Simpsons movie, altering its internal climate. The smog prevents full natural heating of the atmosphere and fails to fully penetrate the inversion layer across the city.

The result of all this is higher levels of smog, higher levels of emissions, and higher retention of created air pollution, mostly due to the fact that Mexico City is a high altitude, hot climate city.

How Mexico City Is Fighting Back Against Smog And Pollution

The government of Mexico set out to try and answer the questions around the relationship between air pollution and the inhabitants of Mexico City. Mainly, they tried to find out how it affected them, and what the perception of those effects was. Were people actually going to ever be personally motivated to try and help solve the problem?

Supported by Canada’s International development research Centre, the World Bank, and the Pan-American health organization, they carried out nearly a decade of research.

The research team focused on the most serious health hazards presented by the pollutants ozone and PM10. Although you may not have heard of PM10, it’s a common pollutant produced from many sources, things like diesel engines, fires, and burning of waste in open-air fires.

Adding in data from Mexico’s air monitoring network, combined with the study, they surprisingly concluded that pollution levels in 2010 were actually very similar to those a decade earlier.

So they concluded that promoting community participation was key to try and sort out the problem with air pollution in Mexico city, and this was a similar conclusion in a project around São Paulo in Brazil as well.

The problem is that a lot of these communities had been decimated by modern life, and were rife with the problems of inner cities. Drug use was rife, and that meant that things like avoiding drug testing to get jobs through the use of Internet provided drug test kits such as synthetic urine products, added to a sense of alienation from government and social responsibility were commonplace.

Promoters of this community participation program use workshops and community groups to promote a sense of identity and helping with pollution and seeing it as a community problem, rather than a distant one that just affected their health.

Through this education, strides have been made in dealing with Mexico City’s air pollution problem. Although everyone is aware of the pollution, they weren’t sure how to deal with it and didn’t realize 75% of the emissions that were killing their children and parents were coming from vehicle exhausts. Most people put it down to the factories in Mexico City, but that simply wasn’t backed up by air quality statistics.

This has also led to a drop in marijuana use an increase in negative drug testing in areas that participated in these community projects. That’s why it’s been seen as a success and has helped people to more conscious of air pollution and help lower it.

The key to this was the idea of sustainable consumption. It allows people to take personal responsibility, and to be educated to understand where personal consumption, and laziness in that consumption, could lead to dramatically increased air pollution levels.

It was also shown by being more efficient, not only were children healthier, but it generated higher levels of income because of better efficiency levels.

So sustainable consumption is linked heavily to pollution, and promoting it at the grassroots level can help to induce a social consciousness that can help to alleviate the very real problems of smog and air pollution in major cities like Mexico City.

The involvement of populations in dealing with local pollution can as we have already seen help with knock-on positive effects such as at lower levels of drugtaking, things like lower levels of marijuana use, and lower levels of drug test avoidance product usage. On top of this, lower levels of crime also noted in those districts.

But it was also about linking people’s daily behavior to the emissions, to get them to take personal responsibility. For example, when people were going to the gym, they were inhaling high levels of emissions because the gyms were mostly next to busy roads, surrounded by concrete, and people obviously breathing more heavily (with the air often pumped in straight from the street). When people were using sporting supplements like SARMs, which increases their vascularity and allows them to exercise more heavily, it could point to an even bigger problem with many high-velocity leisure activities in areas where emissions are high.

So the measures put in place in Mexico City through education participation have reaped benefits socially with lower levels of drug use and high levels of participation and social responsibility. It also led to a drive to look at the locations of places where people congregate publicly and how to clean the air in that vicinity is.

However, the jury is still out on how much impact has been made on emission levels. For example, PM10 emission levels in 2019 were more than double the set annual limit, and many other emissions have also exceeded the threshold set. However, a lot of the emissions have stabilized if not fallen, which considering that the increase in population in Mexico City in the last 10 years has been several million, is at least slowing the problem.