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The Air Quality Issue: A Priority in the Binational Relationship

Posted on May 27, 2011

The Air Quality Issue: A Priority in the Binational Relationship

The issue of dust and suspended particle control was discussed at the seventh meeting of the National Coordinators of the U.S.-Mexico Border 2012 Environmental Program, held on May 10th in San Antonio, Texas.

This is one of the emerging issues for this Program, which has serious implications for air quality and health conditions in the U.S.-Mexico border. The issue was examined from an interdisciplinary perspective during a workshop that brought together a large number of attendees.

The issue was addressed at the workshop with the presentation of the status of suspended particle generation, health impacts, causes, and financial and technological options and solutions.

Carlos Rincon coordinated the workshopThe workshop coordinator was Carlos Rincon, Director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office in El Paso.  

Amy Zimpfer, Associate Air Division Director for the U.S. EPA Region 9, based on her extensive experience on this issue, acknowledged that the production of PM 10 and PM2.5 suspended particulate matter along the border has been a source of great concern for both countries. She highlighted the binational monitoring program for twin cities such as Tijuana/San Diego, Nogales/Nogales, Imperial Valley/Mexicali, and Juarez/El Paso, which generates systematic and reliable data that assist in developing inventories of these types of emissions and identifying the investments required to reduce them. Regarding this issue, she underscored that the more urban development, the fewer suspended particles will be produced. The best example is the comparison between San Diego and Tijuana, insofar as in the former, only 20% of the dust is caused by the lack of street paving, whereas in the latter, 50% of the dust generated is a result of the existing paving backlog.   

A highly respected researcher in this field, Dr. Matiana Ramirez, from Mexico’s Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS, for its Spanish acronym), emphasized that human exposure to PM 10 and PM 2.5 results in major health impacts, particularly in underprivileged areas that lack street paving, as is the case of Juarez, where children and the elderly are the most vulnerable populations. In the long term, Dr. Ramirez noted, this exposure may cause impacts ranging from respiratory disorders, infections and asthma symptoms, to major emergencies such as heart attacks and clots, when suspended particulate matter enters and invades the blood stream. These are conditions that may even lead to death.

Jose Mario Sánchez en la reunión de calidad del aireThe Deputy General Manager of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), Jose Mario Sanchez Soledad, presented a review of the roots of the issue, and highlighted the studies that the BECC has developed to measure the paving backlog, using surveys and satellite technology. In the 23 largest cities along the Mexican border, he said, the cost of paving or repaving damaged areas using asphalt would be about US $1.5 billion, and an estimated US $1.86 billion if concrete paving is used. This is the magnitude of the paving backlog in the border area, although he optimistically said that “there are appropriate and accessible institutional mechanisms to address this backlog.” He mentioned as examples the work developed by the BECC and the North American Development Bank (NADB).

As for financial solutions, NADB Project Director Jose Ruiz presented the bank’s innovative funding scheme, which has been used to finance various paving projects at a cost that exceeds US $800 million. He pointed out that the NADB “is a good option, already proven in tandem with the BECC, for paving, border crossings, and urban mobility [projects]” directed at improving air quality. He pointed out that the bank “is highly specialized in structuring public/private financing packages.” However, in order to adequately address border issues, “we have to tackle the needs with investments that translate into projects, and this has to be done expeditiously,” he said.

Finally, Andy Jackson, from Soils Control International, a Texas company, presented an innovative and accessible technological solution for suspended particle control and soil erosion abatement –a product known as top-seal, proven in 30 countries. This in an easy to apply, affordable, and green solution that is a highly recommended option for underprivileged communities that suffer the impacts of the lack of street paving.




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