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Cablegate: Urban Pollution in Ecuador

VZCZCXYZ0028
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHQT #0366/01 1151427
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 241427Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY QUITO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8755
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 7523
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 3897
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 3001
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ APR 1028
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 2569
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 3513

UNCLAS QUITO 000366

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON SOCI EC
SUBJECT: URBAN POLLUTION IN ECUADOR


1. (U) Summary: Like many Andean nations, Ecuador is
experiencing problems with pollution. The level of hazardous
organic compounds in Quito's air are twice that recommended
by the World Health Organization and exceed EPA norms, and
studies indicate that Quito residents suffer from an elevated
level of upper respiratory infections. The GOE has set air
quality regulations, but provides little regulatory control.
Virtually all monitoring takes place at the municipal level.
End Summary.

Quito's Exhaust-Filled Avenues a Tough Walk for Pedestrians
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (U) Quito's municipal Corporation for the Improvement of
Air Quality (CORPAIRE) says that data gathered throughout the
city have shown that short and long-term levels of
particulate matter and dangerous organic compounds in Quito's
air are more than twice that recommended by the World Health
Organization. Experts say this is due primarily to the black
clouds of diesel exhaust emitted by the city's 6,000 buses
and 13,000 heavy trucks.

3. (U) The highest levels of particulate emissions have been
recorded in southern Quito, the more industrial part of the
city. The average yearly concentration of fine particulate
(or PM2.5, those containing more concentrated toxic organic
compounds and heavy metals) in some areas in 2007 was 27
micrograms per cubic meter, compared to the World Health
Organization's yearly recommended standard of 10mg/m3, or the
U.S. EPA standard of 15mg/m3. The highest recorded 24-hour
levels in 2007 were 65mg/m3. CORPAIRE is studying the
possibility of fitting city buses with special combustion
burners to reduce particulate matter, but implementation has
been delayed due to cost. Quito's altitude complicates this
situation, as vehicles burn more fuel than they would at sea
level to drive similar distances. The result is an overall
higher level of emissions. Finally, Quito's bowl-like
topography ) mountain on one side, hills on the other, with
a congested center ) traps the pollution.

4. (U) CORPAIRE, in concert with Central University, is in
the process of completing new studies on the effects of
carbon monoxide absorption by Quito school children, and on
the rates of upper respiratory infections among adults as a
result of particulate matter in the air. Studies from 2002
showed elevated levels of respiratory illnesses. CORPAIRE
recognizes that most of its efforts to date have been aimed
at reducing visible pollution, and that urgent steps need to
be taken to eliminate chemical compounds in the air.

Air Quality Standards and Enforcement
-------------------------------------

5. (U) Ecuador's National Regulatory Institution, or INEN (a
technical agency run by the Ministry of Industry) established
Ecuador's existing air quality standards. These norms
determine acceptable emissions levels for gasoline and
diesel, identify pollutants, and outline methods for limiting
their effects (INEN is responsible for mandating the
elimination of leaded gasoline in 2000). INEN does not,
however, play an enforcement role.

6. (U) Based on INEN norms, only the city of Quito, in 2006,
has mandated the use of premium diesel by all buses and
trucks, though premium has also just become available in
Cuenca. Premium diesel contains 500 parts per million of
sulfur, as compared to the 7000 ppm sulfur in regular diesel
fuel that is most commonly used in the rest of the country,
and it appears that out-of-town trucks merrily belch the more
polluting diesel when they visit Quito (diesel in the U.S.
generally contains between 50-300 ppm sulfur). The Ministry
of Environment says there is currently not enough premium
diesel produced in the country for its use to be mandated
everywhere, and the cost of importing it is prohibitive. The
Ministry of Energy is responsible for monitoring the quality
of diesel produced at Ecuador's four national refineries; the
largest and most modern of these refineries was built in
Esmeraldas in 1977.

7. (U) There is no national regulatory agency to enforce
emissions guidelines established by the Ministry of Industry.
All air quality monitoring and advocacy in Ecuador ) as
distinct from enforcement -- takes place at the municipal
level. Quito's CORPAIRE belongs to the UN Environment
Program's Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV),
and was founded in 2004. It is headed by a board of
directors with representatives from the Ministry of
Transport, but does not report to any national scientific or
technical agency. Director Jorge Oviedo says the
organization has assumed responsibility for most questions
related to air quality throughout the country, but faces a
constant funding shortage. CORPAIRE worked closely just this
year with the municipality of Cuenca to set up an air
monitoring agency, CuencaAire, and regularly loans it
equipment. No equivalent organization exists in Ecuador's
largest city, Guayaquil, but post understands that the city
had contracted with a California company to do a feasibility
study on the possibility of creating one.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) CORPAIRE officials were quick to point out that
Quito's PM 2.5 levels are "lower than those of New York."
Post notes, however, that New York's population is
approximately seven times that of Quito. Political and
environmental activists frequently speculate that Ecuador's
cities contribute relatively little to global emissions, and
therefore, to the effects of global warming. Possibly
because of this, there seems to be little political will to
combat urban pollution. This general lack of sensitivity,
combined with the absence of an air quality regulatory agency
with the power to sanction, probably means that Ecuador's
cities will continue to face high pollution levels and
related public health problems for some time. End comment.
Jewell

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