In the 25 years to 2015, Mexico City added 3.2 to 3.4 years to the average life expectancy of its citizens and saved 22,500 to 28,000 lives, all by improving its air quality.
That’s the conclusion of a study to quantify the health benefits of broad-ranging policies in Mexico’s capital city to control air pollution, many conducted under its ProAire programmes, which are now being replicated in many of the country’s other cities.
The findings of the study, “Historical analysis of the health benefits for the population associated with air quality in Mexico City between 1990 and 2015”, by Harvard School of Public Health and the Ministry of Environment (Sedema), are particularly poignant— because it covers a period of policy action that changed the city’s fate.
In 1992, the United Nations called Mexico City the most polluted city on the planet, with air quality so bad that birds reportedly fell dead from the sky.
At most recent count, the city of 8.8 million residents now ranks 88th most polluted alongside 42 others— all with a PM2.5 level of 22μg/m3, just over double the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines for the fine particulate air pollutant.
According to the Air Quality Life Index, particulate pollution in the city has declined by 57 per cent since the introduction of its ProAire policies in 1990.
It’s no longer the most polluted city in the world— not even in Mexico— and now it has health gains to show for 25 years of concerted effort.
The research found that a vast degree of this improvement to health— some 80 per cent— was due to a drop in PM2.5, very fine particulate matter the size of some viruses.
The city has achieved this through policies that have included setting stringent fuel and emissions standards in its vehicles, expanding and upgrading public transport, infrastructure improvement and support for bicycle use, closing polluting factories.
ProAire III, the third phase of the city’s now-famous programme, ran from 2002 to 2010 and involved over 80 initiatives, including efforts to shift residents towards public and non-motorized transport: expanding the underground metro system, launching EcoBici, the biggest bike-sharing programme in Latin America, building a suburban train system, and putting in place a bus rapid transit system that moves over one million people every weekday.
The latest ProAire ZMVM 2011-2020 ends in 2020, and contains 81 measures and 116 separate actions across eight strategy areas, including energy consumption, greening of the municipal transport fleets, education, green areas and reforestation, capacity building and scientific research.
The researchers want health benefits to be included in any policy planning.
“Our overall goals were to develop tools to support cost effectiveness analyses, to estimate and validate public health benefits from policies over the past 25 years and provide a basis for estimating the benefits of proposed policies,” said Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Douglas Dockery.
To this end, the researchers used the research to calculate the health benefits that could be reaped if diesel trucks, buses and long-haul trailers were fitted with diesel particulate filters or diesel oxydation catalysts.
The verdict? Health benefits alone would come up to 250 million dollars, and even after subtracting the costs of implementation, equipment and maintenance, would still come in at 150 million dollars per year.
But this is still likely to be a conservative estimate of benefits, says Thiago Hérick de Sá, Technical Officer in Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization, who runs the Urban Health Initiative.
“Whenever cities are planning a set of actions to tackle air pollution, they should be looking at the full spectrum of health benefits from policies and interventions to be put in place, not just the benefits from better air quality, but also, for example, from increased physical activity, from reduction in violence or from fewer traffic injuries. This comprehensive health assessment not only improves the business case and the political support for such policies but may also anticipate unintended negative health impacts. There are now several tools and guidance to help cities to do that,” he said.
In fact, the researchers of the study themselves admit this, writing: “our estimates of the mortality benefits of these controls almost certainly underestimate the true benefits of government regulations and programmes.”
While it acknowledges that there is a still much work to be done, Mexico City, whose population and vehicle fleets have grown over the last 25 years, serves as an example of what cities stand to gain from concerted effort to clean the air.
Read more about BreatheLife in the Latin America and Caribbean region here (Spanish readers).
BreatheLife Webinar Series para América Latina y el Caribe
Sesión 1: Iniciativa de Salud
Únase a un seminario web con nosotros el 29 de nov de 2018 a las 12:00 EST.
Nos complace invitarles a la primera sesión de las serie de webinars de la Campaña Respira Vida, para intercambio de experiencias y fortalecimiento de capacidades en las ciudades/países/regiones de América Latina y el Caribe.
En este primer webinar de la serie se presentarán experiencias en la incorporación de la evaluación de impactos en la salud en la gestión de la calidad del aire. Ciudad de México es la ciudad invitada a esta charla en donde compartirán los resultados del trabajo “Análisis Histórico de los Beneficios en la Salud de la Población Asociados a la Calidad del Aire en México entre 1990 y 2015” y los esfuerzos de la ciudad para integrar la mejora de la calidad del aire desde una perspectiva de protección a la salud pública.
La serie de webinars de la Campaña Respira Vida para América Latina es un esfuerzo conjunto dela Organización Panamericana de la Salud (PAHO), el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente (UNEP), la Coalición Clima y Aire Limpio para Reducir los Contaminantes de Vida Corta (CCAC) y el Clean Air Institute.
Al registrarse, recibirá un correo de confirmación con información sobre cómo unirse al seminario web.
UPDATE on 30 Nov 2018: A complete recording of the webinar is available here. The presentation slides are available here:
Análisis Histórico de los Beneficios en la Salud de la Población Asociados a la Calidad del Aire en México entre 1990 y 2015: HSPH-SEDEMA-BreatheLife Webinar-29 nov 2018-LRB
El programa de calidad del aire de la OPS/OMS: Road map for a PAHO air quality program PWR SPAfinal (1)
Banner photo by C40.