• smart cities
  • Air Quality Monitoring
  • Sustainability
  • Mexico

How Mexico City Got Smart to Fight Poor Air Quality

Grant Samms
Dec 18, 2019

The Energy Cloud

Cities around the world struggle with unhealthy air quality from vehicles and other emissions sources. To meet their goals for healthier air, cities are looking to smart city project technologies and innovative policies to understand and improve their air. Navigant Research, a Guidehouse company, has long considered sustainability (including air quality) to be a core function of the smart city. In Mexico City, the fight for better air quality has been going on for 30 years. In that time, the city’s residents have seen marked change. 

Monitoring Air Quality and Pollution in Mexico City

The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA), once famous for having the most polluted air in the world, is setting an example for addressing air quality issues. Of chief concern are pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon oxide, ozone, volatile organic compounds, and fine matter particulate, which create the hazardous haze that the MCMA was infamous for. Nitrogen dioxide in particular, created primarily by vehicle emissions, is recognized as a respiratory irritant and a leading risk factor for childhood asthma. Ground-level ozone is another concerning pollutant. The result of reaction between sunlight and an array of emission pollutants, ground-level ozone can also trigger respiratory distress. Along with fine particulate matter, these form the basis of MCMA’s air quality improvement efforts.

Those efforts resulted in an aggressive campaign to lower pollution called ProAire, which has led to a significant decrease in the number of air quality warning days the government has had to issue. Now in its fourth phase, ProAire focuses on eight different themes including energy efficiency, regulating fuel consumption, and reforestation among others. The ProAire program’s success is laudable for the air quality improvements it has achieved since the height of the pollution problem. In 1992, the local government declared 290 contingency days where certain restrictions on combustion were put in place. In 2018, they only declared two. 

Key to this success was the collection and translation of data from a robust monitoring system into an easy to understand public portal. A network of nearly 30 air quality sensors has been installed throughout the city that relays information on ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, and other pollutants through the public portal. This portal advises residents on the day’s air quality and what they should do in response. It includes simple to understand tools such as a simple 1 to 10 scale for the pollution risk to vulnerable people. The site also forecasts the next day’s air quality score and lists information on how to protect health in various air conditions. The MCMA’s combination of technology deployments, effective regulation, and public communications strategies has created a model for how an infamously severe problem can realize significant improvement. Their marked success demonstrates that good data used to guide good policy can improve the lives of citizens.