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Santiago (Mon., 3/9/09) I Can See Clearly Now… or Not
by Holly Ritter -- March 9th, 2009

They all know the air is bad.. but just who owns the problem and who will fix it is up in the air?

Saturday morning as we taxied into the heart of Santiago, I passed three manufacturing plants that were belching thick white smoke. Being a trained opacity smokestack observer – meaning I can judge how strong the smoke is- it was worse than any US plants I’ve seen in ages.

In today’s first meeting with Fundacion Terram (a non-profit environmental organization similar to a low-key Sierra Club) I asked about air quality and was told that  the Chilean EPA had rules with no teeth and no enforcement. In our second meeting with an investment banking firm, Claudio Lorrain also knew how bad the air quality was in Santiago, but told us the solution was to move the offending plant out of the city.

Official publications from CONAMA, Chile’s EPA equivalent, talk about great gains in air quality but Santiago is ranked with the worst air quality cities in the world like Mexico City and Cairo. In the mean time hospitals see the vulnerable sector- children and the elderly- who suffer with asthma and bronchitis.

I can see the evidence and so can they, but for now it seems to be someone else’s problem to fix.


  1. Kim Shuman
    Mar 10, 2009

    Very Interesting – Makes You Hold Your Breath.

  2. Bob Healy
    Mar 10, 2009

    I agreee with Holly about the poor quality of the air. Another part of the policy mystery is that automobiles have to have an annual inspection, which includes emissions. Cars for hire have to be inspected three times a year. That’s similar to policy in Mexico City–but Mexico City moved its polluting factories including a major oil refinery, out of the city, at considerable expense, over 20 years ago.

  3. Jennifer Spegon
    Mar 10, 2009

    We met with CONAMA today. They are aware of the air pollution problem. Besides having a strong inversion, they believe it is worse due to the necessary change in fuel sources for industrial use.

  4. Gary Menke
    Mar 11, 2009

    Makes me wonder if any of these facilities are US based and if we follow best practices learned in the US or just follow the minimum local laws of the country.

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