For residents of Temuco, the capital of Chile’s southern Araucanía Region, yesterday marked the sixth consecutive day of severe pollution warnings as the thick smoke-like haze bathing the city approached its worst level yet.
Air quality stations exceeded the limit for Fine Particulate Matter (PM) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter, more than twice the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limit and prompting the Regional Environment Ministry to announce yet another environmental alert.
Particulate matter refers to the small particles that make the air hazy and difficult to breathe. In high concentrations, particulate matter pose significant health hazards as the particles can travel deep inside the lungs, damaging tissue.
“Over the last two weeks, doctors have reported a 25 percent increase in respiratory illnesses and a corresponding rise in the number of hospitalizations,” the director for the regional hospital, Pablo Ibarra, told La Tercera.
Bad air quality plagues Chile’s southern cities during the winter when cold weather conditions trap urban air pollution near the ground. Wood-burning stoves are the biggest contributor, which 85 percent of homes in Temuco use for heat, leading the city’s mayor, Miguel Baker, to propose placing restrictions on their use.
A recent audit by the regional government revealed many of the city’s homes fail to meet environmental standards. Local authorities have announced a plan to combat pollution by providing subsidies for low and middle-income households to improve insulation and replace stoves with modern heating appliances.
Health officials advise people to avoid physical activity and for children, elderly, and pregnant women to wear masks when traveling outside during peak traffic hours.