The situation in Medellin, which lies in the Valley of Aburra, has reached a crisis point with the study from National School of Public Health at the University of Antioquia showing that the lung cancer mortality rate is 3.4 times that of Bogota and 2.7 times that of Colombia.
The figures owe their origin to an analysis of death certificates associated with chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer and strokes recorded at Colombia’s National Department of Statistics (DANE) between 1980 and 2012.
The statistics showed that of the nearly 15,000 deaths recorded in the last year of the report, at least 3,000 were reported to be as a result of these factors, a fact that shocked Professor Elkin Martinez, a researcher at the University of Antioquia.
“That’s ten times more than deaths that cause traffic accidents, for example. But unlike these, which tend to be more dramatic, the others occur ‘silently’ without anyone being able to connect them with the real causes,” said Professor Martinez.
The study reported a dramatic rise in the number of deaths from chronic obstructive diseases as the accelerated urbanization of the city continues.
For example, while 200 people died from such conditions in 1980, the figure increased to 1,000 in 2012, according to the study.
Similarly, the numbers dying from lung cancer significantly increased in the same period with the mortality rate per 100,000 of population rising from 11.8 to 21.4 .
While there may be a variety of causes for the increasing air pollution, Professor Martinez highlights the danger posed by excessive traffic in the city.
Chronic respiratory diseases are also often associated with permanent exposure to cigarette or wood smoke, but figures show that cigarette smoking and cooking with coal have dropped significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, the number of vehicles has quadrupled in the last decade and according to the authorities 80 percent of the substances that pollute the air we breathe come from mobile sources.”
Professor Elkin Martinez – University of Antioquia
Indeed figures from the Metropolitan Area of the Aburra Valley, the body responsible for environmental issues in the city indicate that between 2005 and 2015, the number of cars grew from 478,000 to 1,347,000, meaning that in the capital of Antioquia there is one vehicle for every three inhabitants.
Earlier this year the mayor declared a state of red alert, which allowed city authorities to issue decrees banning heavy transport during certain hours and restricting outdoor exercise in schools.
The mayor announced he would be preparing measures to eventually rid the city of small, privately-run buses that often use turbo chargers to be able to enter the neighborhoods located on the steep slopes of the Aburra valley.
The city had already asked state-run oil company Ecopetrol to deliver cleaner fuel and is now asking the national government to force the oil company to improve the quality of refined gasoline.
In June, the first PurpleAir Pollution Sensor in Latin America went online in the “City of the Eternal Spring” and is now transmitting publicly available air quality data to its citizens as the battle against the smog that reportedly kill more Medellin residents than gun violence continues.