Authorities in Santiago, Chile, the largest city in the country, ordered hundreds of businesses to close and thousands of cars to stay off the streets today, as air pollution levels rose to the highest they’ve been since 1999. Officially declared an “environmental emergency,” the situation so far has had the greatest impact on workplaces and transportation, though not, apparently, on the city’s intent to host the Copa America soccer tournament later this week as planned.
Of the 1.7 million cars on the road in Santiago, many are old and inefficient, contributing a large part of the air pollution. However, with so many cars off the roads, subway stations were packed, and some were forced to close.
In addition to the pollution, the city has had the driest June in four decades, with no rain in sight for another week at least. Add to that its location near the Andes mountain range and several smaller hills on the other side, and the air pollution doesn’t have anywhere to disperse.
This pollution has been found to contain smaller particles than in the past, which can easily affect the lungs and cause health issues.
The 7 million Santiago residents are being encouraged to avoid outdoor physical activity, but this hasn’t stopped the soccer teams in town: Chile and Colombia are scheduled to play later in the week, and both teams have been seen practicing despite the warnings.
While many are hoping the soccer matches will continue as scheduled, Santiago regional governor Claudio Orrego has refused to completely rule out the possibility of extending the emergency into Tuesday or even Wednesday if conditions don’t improve.
Meanwhile, 3,000 factories were shut down today, and 80% of cars with catalytic converters have been ordered off the road. Another 40% of cars without catalytic converters have also been ordered to stay home between 7:30 AM and 9 PM local time.