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Cablegate: Bogota Air Quality Among Worst in Latin America

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #8658/01 3602132
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 262132Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0637
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 7958
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 9705
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 5741
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 1011
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6445

UNCLAS BOGOTA 008658

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

OES/PCI FOR LSPERLING; WHA/EPCS FOR FCORNEILLE; EPA FOR
HILL-MACON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ELTN EPET SENV SOCI ENRG CO
SUBJECT: BOGOTA AIR QUALITY AMONG WORST IN LATIN AMERICA

REF: BOGOTA 8092

1. SUMMARY: Bogota's seven million plus inhabitants breathe
some of the worst air in the region. Air quality falls below
safe levels over 95 percent of the time. Low-quality fuel,
poor driving practices, and urban deforestation are largely
to blame. GOC officials expect an agreement to improve
diesel fuel, new emissions standards and a forthcoming air
quality plan to improve life for Bogota's citizens. END
SUMMARY.

More Bad Air Days
-----------------

2. A study released in November found that Bogota's air
quality ranks third worst of all Latin American capitals,
ahead of only Mexico City and Santiago. The author of the
study, Professor Javier Burgos of Bogota's National
University, has studied Bogota's air for over seven years and
said it is steadily worsening. He told us only Bogota's
frequent strong winds prevent it from having the worst air
quality of all Latin American capitals.

3. Burgos identified Bogota's 20,000 diesel buses as the
main culprit. He noted that during a recent bus strike air
quality improved by over 50 percent within days. Burgos said
poor fuel contributed to the problem: buses use low quality
diesel which generates clouds of particulate laden exhaust.
In addition, when diesel buses drive erratically, with sudden
stops and starts, they produce far more exhaust. Bad roads
(over half of Bogota's roads are significantly damaged) and
policies which encourage drivers to stop for every potential
passenger (drivers' salaries depend on the number of
passengers) greatly increase bus exhaust.

Safe to Breathe Only 16 Days a Year
-----------------------------------

4. Burgos said anything above 150 micrograms of particulates
per cubic meter (PM10) per day is considered unsafe for human
health under international standards. In 2006 Bogota's air
quality averaged 154 PM10 per day and met acceptable levels
for human health only 16 days during the entire year. In
some parts of the city particulate levels often went as high
as 230 PM10. Burgos estimates that every 10 microgram rise in
the PM10 level leads to a four percent rise in the number of
respiratory problems. Respiratory ailments are currently the
number one health problem in Bogota, with about 15 percent of
the children in Bogota's hospitals there due to respiratory
problems caused by poor air quality. Burgos is currently
working on a study that on the relationship between Bogota's
air pollution worker absenteeism.

5. In 1998 Bogota instituted the "Pico y Placa" program to
restrict the number of cars driving within city limits during
peak commute hours. The system operates on a rotating daily
cycle based on the last digit of license plates. The city's
Transit Office credits Pico y Placa with removing 200,000
cars per day (out of 1 million total) from Bogota's streets.
In September of 2006 the city expanded the program to cover
public buses. Still, Burgos said the program has not
significantly improved air quality because bus companies
either ignore the law or circumvent it by switching plates.

Urban Deforestation Exacerbates Problem
---------------------------------------

6. Studies have shown that trees help keep air clean by
absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. The World
Health Organization recommends cities maintain at least one
tree per every three urban residents. Bogota Botanical
Gardens official Manuel Jose Amaya told us that a recent tree
survey showed that Bogota has only one tree for every seven
residents and almost one third may need to be cut down
because of old age or disease.

A Breath of Fresh Air on the Way
--------------------------------

7. In 2006 the Ministry of the Environment, Housing and
Territorial Development (MinEnv) produced a resolution with
Colombia's first particulate emissions standards. The
resolution limits particulates to a maximum of 150 PM10 per
day throughout the country. Helver Reyes Lozano, an advisor
to the MinEnv who worked on the resolution, admitted that
publishing a resolution does not mean immediate enforcement,
especially in large cities like Bogota. Reyes described the
GOC as just beginning to grapple with the issue of air
pollution. Still, Reyes called the new standards a "critical
first step" in reducing air pollution.

8. In November 2007, MinEnv and the Ministry of Mines and
Energy reached an agreement to improve the quality of diesel
used in Bogota. Beginning in January 2008, Colombia will
implement a mandate to blend five percent biodiesel into the
diesel transportation fuel mix (reftel). GOC officials
expect emission-reducing biodiesel combined with higher
quality traditional diesel to emit 30 percent less
particulates by 2010. Efforts to reduce diesel emissions
follows similar steps to introduce a 10 percent ethanol blend
to the gasoline fuel mix in major Colombian cities in 2005 to
cut air pollution. As analysts expect diesel consumption to
significantly outpace gasoline in Colombia over the next
decade, improvements to the diesel fuel mix are critical to
long-term emissions reduction.

9. Reyes said the MinEnv is developing an air quality plan
for Bogota. The MinEnv will present the plan to Bogota's new
mayor in early 2008. The plan will include specific
recommendations for the new administration on a wide range of
areas including repairing roads, improving traffic flows, and
reforesting urban areas. In addition, the MinEnv and
industry are working together on a plan to reduce Bogota's
industrial air pollution. A pilot program in Medellin to
reduce industrial particulates through emissions credit
exchanges may serve as a model for Bogota.
Nichols

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