Real-time Data Shows Mexico’s Fires Are Creating Dangerous Levels of Air Pollution

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.

Mexico City blanketed by smoke. Photo by Santiago Arau.

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 viceversa”, 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.

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