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2022 Air quality average
2022 average US AQI
2022 average PM2.5 concentration in Peru: 4.7 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
|2022 Peru cleanest city
| Breu , Ucayali
|2022 Peru most polluted city
| San Juan de Lurigancho , Lima
Peru is a country located in the western region of south America, also known officially as the Republic of Peru. It is bordered by other south American countries such as Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. The country covers some 1.28 million km2, making it the 19th largest country in the world, as well as being home to approximately 32.8 million people.
Looking at the quality of its air, Peru came in with a yearly average of 23.28 μg/m³ over 2019, in regards to the amount of PM2.5 in the air. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, which is around 3% the width of an average human hair. Due to its microscopic size, it is extremely detrimental to human health when respired, and as such is a major component used in calculating overall pollution levels, or US AQI.
This 2019 reading of 23.28 μg/m³ put Peru into the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket, a group which requires a reading of any number between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such, putting Peru into the mid-range of this rating. 23.28 μg/m³ was also enough to put it into 33rd place out of all the most polluted countries ranked worldwide, coming in just behind Serbia and Kosovo, with their own readings of 23.30 μg/m³ and 23.50 μg/m³ putting them in 32nd and 31st place respectively.
Peru, and many countries in South America have lots of pollution and environment related issues weighing heavily over them, particularly regarding deforestation but also that of water and air contamination.
Looking at the cities registered in Peru, particularly that of the capital city Lima, whilst they are not subject to the same catastrophic spikes in PM2.5 levels that cities such as Lahore in Pakistan (with PM2.5 readings as high as 199.1 μg/m³ being recorded in January of 2019), they certainly have their own elevated levels of pollution that cause a large number of issues for its many inhabitants as well as the ecosystem and climate.
Lima came in with a yearly average of 23.7 μg/m³, putting it also in the moderate rating bracket, as well as being the 682nd most polluted city in the world. It had some of its months come in with elevated readings, with some going as high as 34.2 μg/m³ taken in September 2019.
Looking at another city in Peru, Chupaca, it came in with some of the cleaner readings available in the country, being more indicative of how the air quality would be in some of the more provincial areas, with its huge number of trees, hills and lack of human activity giving rise to a much cleaner quality of air. Chupaca had 6 months out of its 2019 listing come in within the World Health Organizations target bracket of 0 to 10 μg/m³, with February coming in at 5.1 μg/m³, a very respectable reading and the cleanest month recorded in the entire country during 2019.
Despite the cleanliness of Chupaca’s air, its yearly average was still 14.8 μg/m³, in the moderate bracket once again, because of pollution spikes that occurred in the middle the year, with months such as June coming in at 20.5 μg/m³, and August at 32 μg/m³, displaying that even though the city has a very desirable quality of air, there are still highly polluted months seeing large rises in PM2.5, caused by a number of different sources, all of which lead to Peru having a worser quality of air.
Air pollution in Peru finds itself with several different sources, some more pertinent than others, although steps are being taken towards reducing these problems, which will be discussed in more depth later on. The main causes would include vehicular emissions, with the smoke and fumes coming from the many cars and motorbikes, as well as heavy duty vehicles such as trucks, lorries and buses moving up and down the city, particularly in the capital city.
These vehicles are often very old aged, with engines that produce far more pollution that a newer and more efficient counterpart would. To compound the issue further, due to lack of regulations, oftentimes much lower quality fuels are used, as well as fossil fuels such as diesel. Both diesel as well as lower quality fuel can put out much more smoke and haze into the atmosphere, causing increased ambient year-round readings to occur. In many countries, initiatives to phase out the use of these ancient vehicles have been implemented, and go a long way in helping to reduce the pollutive output from the vehicular sector, although due to economic reasons this may be easier said than done for the time being in Peru.
Other sources of pollution include the burning of wood for use in homes and small businesses, typically cooking and other similar activities. When practiced on a small scale, the effect on the air quality is minimal, but when done by hundreds of thousands of people, the smoke can accumulate to the point where it has a visible effect on the population, with workers and people who have to spend time in highly polluted areas being aware about the health risks they face.
Other causes that contribute to pollution levels, more prominent in the capital city or areas that are undergoing rapid development or urbanization, would be industrial activity. This could be anything from factory emissions, the use of heavy equipment, construction sites and road repairs, all of which can contribute heavily to the amount of fine particulate matter in the air.
Slash and burn farming would also be an ongoing danger, which can have knock on effects that lead to soil erosion in affected areas, besides polluting the atmosphere. Other open burn sources include the setting alight of rubbish piles or refuse, more prominent in low income or impoverished areas that have poor waste management.
These open burn piles, besides containing organic wastes, can also contain synthetic and manmade materials such as rubber and plastic, or even metals, the burning of which would release even more pollutants into the air. To reiterate, the most discussed forms of air pollution that afflict Peru are vehicular and factory emissions.
Observing the data from the last few years, it becomes apparent that Peru has made some improvements in the levels of air pollution occurring. There are certain initiatives that have been put forth that may be contributing on a small-scale level, particularly to people that live in certain areas of high pollution and particulate matter. One of these is the use of ‘super tree’ technology, essentially a giant billboard that draws in large volumes of dirty air, and using thermodynamic pressure manages to force these pollutive gases and particulate matter into water, whereby it is removed entirely from the air and expelled, pumping out clean air in the process.
Initiatives such as these have been hailed as huge successes, mainly due to the quantifiable nature of actually being able to see the process take place, as well as functioning very well in Lima’s urban geography, one that is landlocked, sees little rain, but also has a high level of humidity thus enabling the supertree technology to work efficiently.
Looking at the available data and numbers, Peru came in with a PM2.5 reading of 28 μg/m³ in 2018, and was followed by a fairly considerable improvement with a reading of 23.28 μg/m³. Something that must be taken into consideration when observing this improvement is to whether it is actually due to real changes in air quality, or the addition of cleaner cities such as Chupaca into the country’s registry, which then in turn would lower the overall average. However, any change in the overall pollution averages in a step in the right direction, with all factors considered.
The same can be said of the capital city. Lima came in with a 2017 reading of 27.7 μg/m³, followed by a 2018 reading of 28 μg/m³. In 2019 a considerable improvement to 23/7 μg/m³ was recorded as its yearly average. This shows that the air quality in Peru, and certainly the capital, may be making vital steps in the right direction.
With a large amount of its pollution arising from vehicles, factory emissions, slash and burn farming, open burning of refuse and garbage, as well as construction sites and poorly maintained roads or areas that suffer from soil erosion, the variety of pollutants found in the air in Peru would be fairly diverse.
The burning of fossil fuels as well as organic matter, or rather the ‘incomplete combustion’ of both can lead to the formation of materials such as black carbon and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). They are known as volatile due to their chemical properties of converting into gaseous form under very low temperature conditions, meaning that in most environments they would be in their gas form, and thus easier to respire.
Some examples of VOC’s are benzene, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, ethylene glycol and toluene, all of which have highly detrimental effects on human health, with short term problems such as mucosal membrane irritation (eyes, nose and throat), aggravated asthma attacks, dizziness and nausea all being present, which can drastically reduce the quality of a person’s life.
However, when the long-term effects are examined, they become far more serious as well as terminal, with instances of cancers, hepatic and renal system failure (liver and kidney damage), as well as permanent negative changes to the nervous system, that can lead to a number of irreversible life changing problems.
Black carbon, as mentioned, is also a by product of fossil fuel combustion, as well as being produced by the burning of organic matter such as wood or plants. It is a major component of soot and considered a carcinogen, as well as being extremely small in size and thus able to not only enter into the lungs and cause damage or heighten instances of cancer, but also cross over into the blood stream and cause further damage to the heart or blood vessels, as well as other organs.
Vehicle emissions release large amounts of chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), with nitrogen dioxide being very prominent in its release from vehicle engines, with large amounts in the atmosphere often correlating directly with a higher volume of traffic.
Poorly maintained construction sites can release large amounts of PM2.5 and PM10, with heavy piles of uncovered rubble combined with wind being a recipe for disaster, sweeping vast amounts of finely ground gravel, silica, micro plastics and even metals such as lead and mercury into the air.
To finish with the list of pollutants, other possible ones that can be found in the air from other sources such as slash and burn farming, as well as open burning of rubbish piles, can be chemical compounds and materials such as the aforementioned black carbon and VOC’s, as well as others such as carbon monoxide (CO), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and in the cases where materials such as plastic are burnt, other more noxious chemicals such as furans, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls.
These can have a catastrophic effect on vegetation and plant life, going beyond the health effects on humans. Thus, when pollution levels in Peru are high in any given area, with the cause of it being considered, any of these chemicals or particle matters may find themselves in the air, and as such serious preventative measures should be taken in order to avoid their respiration, such as the wearing of fine particle filtering masks or avoiding outdoor activities.
With the main sources of pollution being from vehicles, more stringent rules could be introduced that target offending causes, with a crackdown on high fume and smoke emitting heavy duty trucks and lorries being of chief importance, due to their prevalence in the transportation of goods in and out of major cities.
The removal of these, or at the least introduction of fines and charges for vehicles that break the pollution output or age limit could be introduced, which would go a long way in putting a dent in the year-round pollution levels. Others would be the cracking down on open fires or slash and burn farming practices, as well as introducing the same fines and charges to factories, industrial sites or private businesses that cause the surrounding atmosphere to exceed safe levels of pollution. With these steps in place, Peru may see further improvements in its air quality and lower counts of death and illnesses associated with pollution.
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