Mexico’s Fires Are Creating Dangerous Levels Of Air Pollution, Real-Time Data Show

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“As residents of Mexico City are being asked to stay indoors to avoid hazardous air quality, WRI’s Resource Watch team is tracking the fires breaking out in Mexico and Central America in near-real time,” the World Resources Institute emailed CleanTechnica.

“A new Resource Watch blog from WRI’s experts shows more than 100 fires in central and southern Mexico over the past week and the dangerous air quality levels and smoke plumes they are causing for nearby residents.”

How bad is the pollution? Very bad. “For example, at 8 am yesterday, air quality sensors on Resource Watch detected PM 2.5 concentrations nearly double what the US EPA considers an ‘unhealthy’ limit at 103.9 μg/m3 in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, just east of Mexico City.”

Originally published on WRI’s Resource Watch platform, a platform which features hundreds of data sets all in one place on the state of the planet’s resources and citizens.

By Emily Cassidy

About 100 fires have broken out in central and southern Mexico since last week, causing dangerous conditions for nearby residents. Most of the fires broke out along the west coast, although smoke from the fires have caused hazardous air conditions in many parts of the country. Mexico City, home to about 21 million people, declared an environmental emergency on Tuesday and warned residents to stay indoors to avoid the smoke-filled air.

Smoke from fires contains fine particulates (PM 2.5), an easily inhalable pollutant linked to heart and lung problems, as well as asthma. Any level of exposure to fine particulate matter increases health risks, but exposures over 55 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) over a 24-hour period are unhealthy, according to the U.S. EPA (a microgram is one-millionth of a gram.)

At 7:00 am CT yesterday, OpenAQ’s air quality data on Resource Watch showed PM 2.5 of 103.9 μg/m3 in Nezahualcóyotl, just east of Mexico City. You can also explore more detailed air quality data in Mexico City on the city’s website.

“This extraordinary meteorological event took the environmental authorities and environmental emergency programs by surprise, since there is no specific environmental contingency protocol for fine particles (PM 2.5), which is currently one of the main gaps in governance. Urban authorities need to work together with rural authorities, since water and air issues do not obey borders; this highlights the importance of interstate coordination and the need of objective and independent institutions, since many urban issues depend on forest and rural issues, and vice versa”, says Jorge Macías, director of urban development and accessibility at WRI Mexico.

OpenAQ data for PM 2.5 near Mexico City

“To address this current environmental crisis, what we could do is create a specific regional attention mechanism for forest monitoring, including fire alerts, and analyse the causes of these fires, which are linked, mainly, to human activity, from agricultural practices, to land use changes and even accidental fires from visitors to natural areas. This information helps us see the strong linkages between the rural areas (forest and agricultural) and cities, and hopefully will help to promote territorial policies and activities beyond manmade boundaries,” adds Javier Warman, director of the WRI Mexico Forests program.

The map below is from May 14, 11:00 am CT and shows NASA fire locations data, which is updated twice daily, and NOAA’s smoke plumes data for North America, which is updated daily.

Smoke plumes from fires in Mexico

Monitor recent fires, smoke plumes and PM 2.5 on Resource Watch in near-real-time below.

Explore more datasets here.

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