A comparison of Latin American Air Quality Scales

Posted on May 10th 2015
(re-edited on June 3rd 2015)
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Annual PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations,
based on World Health Organization
2014 ambient air pollution database
Contamination por cuidad PM2.5 PM10 c.
Salvador de Bahia
9
17
Cali
13
23
San Jose
15
27
Buenos Aires
16
30
Asuncion
18
-
Montevideo
18
27
Quito
18
38
Kingston
20
37
La Paz
23
42
Caracas
24
45
Cuidad de Mexico
25
93
Santiago de Chile
26
69
Bogota
27
48
Tegucigalpa
32
58
Cuidad de Guatemala
33
45
Lima
38
63
Rio de Janeiro
36
67
Cochabamba
41
75
Classification according to the WHO standard:

Air Quality Guideline (excellent)
Intermediate target - 1 (very good)
Intermediate target - 2 (good)
Intermediate target - 3 (moderate)
Out of range (needs improvement)

Note: This the third article of series on 'Worldwide Air Quality Scales'.

Latin America, just like any other continent in our world is facing Air Pollution. The recent 2014 report by the World Health Organization on Ambient (outdoor) Air Pollution gives some annual mean figures for several cities in Latin America. Without surprise, the worst scenarios are in Asia, but yet, some cities in Latin America have high indexes too (see table on the left).

The ranking from the WHO should however by considered carefully, especially considering the measurement methods used the report can be argued - for instance, for Lima, the Peruvian EPA is arguing that the data from the WHO is not correct because the samples were not taken in the right places (read this article from P. Estupinya for full feedback from several countries). This is actually for this reason that we only publish real-time information on the World Air Quality project since we do believe than more than ranking, it is the current conditions that are important for the world citizen.

Looking back at the reason for Air Pollution in Latin America, there are several explanations, one of them beeing the impressive amount of dust traveling from the Sahara desert towards the Amazon, as reported by the NASA. The other reasons are very much specific specific for each country. For instance, for Santiago de Chile, it is both the topography formed by the Andes in the East preventing the pollution from dispersing latteraly, and the constant stream of air from the Hadley cell circulation which prevents the pollution from escaping upwards (creating an inverstion layer).
oOo


Our colleagues from the Clean Air Institute as well as the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) have both produced excellent summaries on the Air Quality in Latin America. The one from CAI is called ' Air Quality in Latin America: An Overview' (por español) and the one from NRDC Dumping Dirty Diesels in Latin America. The article from Pere Estupinya from the MIT is also giving a lot of pointers for each countries.

All of the above reports confirm our findings on the Air Quality monitoring availability in Latin Amercia, i.e. that data is available at least for those 12 countries: Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, French Guiyana as well as Ecuador.

Latin America with real-time Air Quality forecast overlay (more info)

Countries with known data (and PM2.5)
Brazil
-
Chile
-
Ecuador
-
Colombia
-
Peru
-
Mexico
-
El Salvador
French Guiana
Countries with known data (but only PM10)
Bolivia
-
Argentina
-
Guatemala
-
Puerto Rico
Countries with known data (but not yet available)
Uruguay
-
Venezuela, RB
-
Panama
-
Dominican Republic
Countries without known data
Falkland Islands
-
Guyana
-
Paraguay
-
Suriname
-
Honduras
-
Nicaragua
-
Costa Rica
-
Cuba
-
Haiti
-
Jamaica
-
Belize
-
Bahamas, The
-
Trinidad and Tobago

Here are some more details from our investigation:
  • Uruguay: Air Quality readings for Montevideo are available from the ICaire system, but unfortunately not in real-time. They are however made available once a week.
  • Dominican Republic: Air Quality should be available for Santo Domingo, but from the Enviromental Information System (Sistema de Informacion Ambiental) does not provide any information.
  • Panama: The article from la estrella de Panama indicates that several monitoring stations are setup in Panama. However, there is no clear infomration about the measured data from the Ministerio de Ambiente or the SINIA system.
  • Venezuela: No information is available from the , but this study on Caracas' Particule Matter concentration highlights that an existing monitoring network is (or was?) available.
  • Paraguay: No online data available from the Secretaría del Ambiente (SEAM), but a project involving the Centro Mario Molina, the UNEP, the CONADERNA should hopefully give the way to a proper standard and monitoring solution.
  • Trinidad & Tongbao: No information, but this slide from the Environmental Management Authority shows that T&T is moving toward monitoring solution.
  • French Guiana: As an overseas Department and Region of France, Air Quality monitoring is mandatory as part of the European regulations. However, only PM10 data is available (from ora-guyane).
oOo

Back to the main topic of this article, i.e. the Air Quality Scales used in Latin America, there is no surprise in mentionning that every single country is have a different scale, with different conventions for the colors, concentration breakpoints and nomenclature. However, except from Brazil which is using an AQI scale slighlty more compact, i.e with breakpoints defined at 40,80,120, 200 and 300 instead of 50,100,200,300 and 500, the scales are more or less the same in settings levels towards good - unhealthy - and hazardous breakpoints. And this is actually what matters the most, since it is those three breakpoints our citizen will use to decide on their outdoor activity.

Historically, the US EPA standard has been used on the World Air Quality Index project for reporting the real-time Air Quality all over the world. But based on this analysis, sometimes it does not make sense. For instance for the city of Monterrey in Nuovo Leon, Mexico, we are now directly reporting the AQI usign the IMECA standard, considering the the IMECA PM10 is actually more strict than the US EPA PM10 standard. You can check it yourself from the graphs below.

oOo

Fortunately, this article is just a snapshot in the Air Quality monitoring and scales in May 2015. Things change and evolve, and some countries for which data is not available will start to monitor their environement. Same, the scale will be updated, at least to follow the gradual guidelines from the WHO. But the most important is that each country keeps its own identity: What makes our world beautiful is its diversity, and we are starting to believe that having only one unique scale might not be the right solution. But, that's something will write more about soon.

Note: This the third article of series on 'Worldwide Air Quality Scales'. In the next article, we will be writing about the innovative Air Quality Health Index standard used in Hong Kong.
oOo


Air Quality Scales comparison (for PM2.5 and PM10) - to be used for real-time readings (e.g. based on 24 hours exposure):


The nomenclature and colors used for the different countries is highlighted in the following table:
Range
- AQI
United States
- IMECA
Mexico
- IQCA
Ecuador
- ICA
Chile
- ICA
Argentina
- ICAIRE
Uruguay
- ICA
Colombia
- IC Aire
Venezuela
- IQA
Brazil
0..50
Good
Buena
Deseable
Bueno
N1
Muy Buena
Muy Buena
Buena
Boa
Buena
Buena
Moderada
50..100
Moderate
Regular
Aceptable
N2
Aceptable
Aceptable
Ruim
100..150
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
Mala
Precaución
Regular
N3
Inadecuada
Inadecuada
Regular
Muito Ruim
150..200
Unhealthy
Muy mala
N4
200..250
Very Unhealthy
Extremadamenta mala
Alerta
Alerta
N5
Mala
Mala
Mala
Péssima
250..300
300..350
Hazardous
Alarma
Pre-emergencia
N6
Muy Mala
Muy Mala
Critica
350..400
400..450
Emergencia
N7
Peligrosa
450..500


The reference to the standards used in this report can be found from the following table:

CountryFlagIndexFull Index NameResponsible EPA
Argentina
ICAÍndice de Calidad de AireSistema de Información Ambiental Nacional (SIAN)
Brazil
IQAIndice de qualidade do arCompanhia Ambiental do Estado de São Paulo (CETESB)
Chile
ICAIndice de calidad de aire referido a partículasSistema de Información Nacional de Calidad del Aire (SINCA)
Colombia
ICAÍndice de calidad del AireMinisterio de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Territorial
Ecuador
IQCAÍndice Quiteño de la Calidad del AireMinisterio del Ambiente República del Ecuador
Mexico
IMECAÍndice Metropolitano de la Calidad del AireSistema de Monitoreo Atmosférico de la Ciudad de México.
Peru
ECAEstándares nacionales de calidad del aireSistema Nacional de Información Ambiental (SINIA)
United States
AQIAir Quality IndexUnited States Environmental Protection Agency
Uruguay
ICAIREÍndice de calidad de aireServicio de Evaluación de la Calidad y Control Ambiental del Departamento de Desarrollo Ambiental de la Intendencia de Montevideo
Venezuela
IC AireÍndice de calidad del AireMinisterio del Poder Popular para el Ambiente, Dirección General de Calidad Ambiental

Note1: This article has been updated on May 26th with the updated standard for Ecuador.
Note1: This article has been updated on June 3rd with the updated information for the Medellin monitoring network.



--

Note: This article is part of a series on Worlwide Air Quality scales.

For more information about specific countries or continent, please refer to thoses articles:
Thailand and Malysia
-
India
-
China
-
Hong Kong / Canada (Air Quality Health Index)
-
South America
-
Australia
-
Quebec and Montreal
-
Singapore
-
Poland
-
Indonesia
.
For information about the 24 hours averaging used or Ozone and Particulate Matter (PM2.5), please refer to those two articles: Ground Ozone Index - PM2.5 Instant Cast


Click here to see all the FAQ entries
  • Air Quality Forecasting in Northern India
  • A visual study of Wind impact on PM2.5 Concentration
  • UNEP Air Quality Monitoring Station




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    About the Air Quality and Pollution Measurement:

    About the Air Quality Levels

    AQIAir Pollution LevelHealth ImplicationsCautionary Statement (for PM2.5)
    0 - 50GoodAir quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no riskNone
    51 -100ModerateAir quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
    101-150Unhealthy for Sensitive GroupsMembers of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
    151-200UnhealthyEveryone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effectsActive children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
    201-300Very UnhealthyHealth warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.
    300+HazardousHealth alert: everyone may experience more serious health effectsEveryone should avoid all outdoor exertion

    To know more about Air Quality and Pollution, check the wikipedia Air Quality topic or the airnow guide to Air Quality and Your Health.

    For very useful health advices of Beijing Doctor Richard Saint Cyr MD, check www.myhealthbeijing.com blog.


    Usage Notice: All the Air Quality data are unvalidated at the time of publication, and due to quality assurance these data may be amended, without notice, at any time. The World Air Quality Index project has exercised all reasonable skill and care in compiling the contents of this information and under no circumstances will the World Air Quality Index project team or its agents be liable in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss, injury or damage arising directly or indirectly from the supply of this data.



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