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  • A building during high levels of pollution in Mexico City, Mexico, May 14, 2019

    A building during high levels of pollution in Mexico City, Mexico, May 14, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 May 2019

Capital authorities urge people to drive less and for the vulnerable to stay indoors to avoid respiratory problems caused by fires in the area, but no long-term solutions.

Authorities in Mexico City say residents of Mexico’s sprawling capital should continue to avoid being outdoors or cooking because of fires that surround the city.

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The Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis (CAME) said it issued the mandate to "reduce the likelihood of health effects on the population, mainly the groups most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution (infants, the elderly and patients with respiratory tract and cardiovascular)."

Mexico City’s Atmospheric Monitoring System (Simat) reported Tuesday morning that the PM2.5 index (particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter) had reached 160 points in some areas of the city, a number high enough to cause respiratory effects and allergies among the young and old populous, among other health problems. Simat put the city on a PM2.5 red alert.

CAME said that the issue isn’t just in the city, but in the surrounding Valley of Mexico that includes the State of Mexico where most areas have been registering a PM2.5 index of more than 100 over the past several days because of forest fires in the region.

"The environmental warning continues in the Valley of Mexico due to the prevalence of fine particulate pollution related to the presence of fires in the basin and its surroundings," the Commission stated.

The pasture and forest fires have been ablaze since last week in certain parts of the city’s southern sector, including Xochimilco where resident Lourdes Martinez told teleSUR: "Yes it's bad. There's a lot of smoke in the streets. It's as though the the fires were within blocks. ... We hope this gets better soon," said the long-time Mexico City resident.

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CAME said the air is too stagnant to move the air and decrease the amount of particles stuck over the city surrounded by mountains. In a statement the agency said: "The meteorological forecast indicates the conditions for the dispersion of pollutants is unfavorable due to a high pressure system in the southwestern part of the country, which causes cloudiness and weak wind in the Valley of Mexico."

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes PM2.5 amounts between 100-150 as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and 150-200 as “unhealthy” for the general public.

The Ministry of Public Education (SEP) suspended any outdoor and after school activity in Mexico City in order to avoid health problems for students and staff.

The commission is telling people in the region to “avoid ... outdoor recreation activities and … if possible for vulnerable groups remain in their homes.” It also suggests the population avoids “cooking with wood, coal or gas, don't light candles or incense, and​​​​​​ do not smoke.”

Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced a pollution alert Tuesday afternoon and said school will remain cancelled until at least Wednesday. "In case ozone pollution increases along with PM2.5 particles, then we will analyze additional measures," Sheinbaum said at a press conference.

However, Martinez said she also hopes the administration starts to take more long-term measures against the high indices of pollution and particles that the city sees each year.

"I hope they start to take permanent measures because (the governments) always use bandaids to try to take care of this problem that is not new. ... Sheinbaum hasn't taken real measures but she's saying that (her administration) will implement a strategy that is deeper and more long-term, but we'll have to see what happens," Martinez explains to teleSUR.

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