Smog in your lungs

Imagine you are in South America, you see the Andes. Now take a deep breath of air. How do you feel like now? Well, probably great until I tell you that you are in Bogotá and you just inhaled a mix of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Polluting buses in Bogotá

Fresh air in Bogotá? ( (c) Dr. Gonzalo E. Díaz)

Bogotá, like other mega cities in South America such as Sao Paulo or Mexico City, shows significant levels of air pollution that represent a high risk for the health of its 10 million citizens. A study of the Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá indicates that the estimate burden of disease, measured in annual cases, is of 2300 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths attributable to PM2.5 exposure, a kind of particulate matter, and just one of many pollutants in Bogota’s air.

Each year, since 2000, the Colombian capital celebrates a car free day in February to remind people that there are alternative ways of getting to work other than the car. Bogota’s mayoralty calculates that an average of 1.5 million passenger cars circulate on its streets every day.

The problem: most cars transport one passenger only – the driver. This leads to massive congestions, especially in the mornings and evenings when people go to and come home from work. Citizens, who can’t afford a car, take overcrowded buses moved by private companies or by the relatively new but ineffective Transmilenio bus system. Here is the other problem:  almost all buses use Diesel and most buses do not meet safe emission criteria. In addition, corruption and mafia have not allowed the construction of a metro or tram system in this mega city.

“Many people use their car because of safety reasons”, explains Juliana Aguirre, who studies environmental engineering. She takes the Transmilenio every day to university and has been robbed several times. “My cell pone has been stolen out of my pocket and even my watch taken from my wrist”, she says. Cases of robbery and theft are on the daily menú of Bogotá’s public transport. Safety is another big issue in the Colombian capital.

But let’s get back to air pollution. An easy way of getting around in an eco-friendly way is by riding a bike. Bicycles are seen from time to time during the week in Bogotá, but missing infrastructure, such as appropriate bike lanes, make it an unsafe journey to work. Still, groups such as “Mejor en Bici” believe in green pedaling. They advise companies and organizations which “want to adopt a healthy, productive and sustainable bike to work system”.

Let’s hope for our lungs that projects like these will soon become mainstream in Bogotá.

Young cyclists on one of the few bike lanes in Colombia's capital.

Young cyclists on one of the few bike lanes in Colombia’s capital. ( (c) Josephine Landertinger Forero)



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Author: Josephine Landertinger Forero 

3 thoughts on “Smog in your lungs

  1. This is a very accurate description of certain problems Bogota inhabitants have. It is the “face” we are ashamed to share with the world. But is a problem that we have to face and accept, in order to be able to progress.
    The solution is quite complex, but I think that the government should collect a solution’s portfolio made out of the proposals from the citizens. On the other hand, the problem with the air pollution is mostly in Bogota’s downtown, and while a solution to “corruption” is quite a challenge, the use of bikes should definitely be estimulated. The real problem is the lack of leadership from our last 3 majors. But there are worse things happening in Bogota and unfortunately the air’s quality, while still related, is not presently the higher concern.

    • Thank you for your comment! You said that “the government should collect a solution’s portfolio made out of the proposals from the citizens”. I think you are right and there are small steps being done by citizens. As mentioned in the article, “Mejor en Bici” are one of a few groups seeking change in this mega city. Here is an article in Spanish describing other plans for bicycle lanes. I have to disagree with you on your sentence “the problem with the air pollution is mostly in Bogota’s downtown”. It is very aggravated there, but as the Transmilenio and the other buses move throughout the whole city, they are literally poisoning the air with black Diesel smog everywhere. I invite you to check out the pictures here: Spanish and here (English. As for the lack of leadership, I agree with you on that. Corruption plays a huge role in the country and in the city. But still, there are efforts. For example, the District Planning Bureau organized a conference entitled “Green City & City Culture” just a few days ago. And here you can check out Bogotá’s green policies. One thing is for sure: the current system is not working, and with the city of 10 million growing at an ever faster pace, environmental issues are not something for “yuppies”. They are huge public health issues that have to be solved.

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