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Pollution in Medellin: The dirty little secret

There is a huge pollution problem in Medellin.

According to the Metropolitan Area of the Valley Aburrá, there were 3 Months in 2016 with enough air pollution to be categorized as at or near environmental emergency levels.

The increase in bicycle adoption hasn’t solved the problem, nor have the driving restrictions put on vehicle usage through programs like “Pico y Placa”, a driving restriction policy aimed to mitigate traffic congestion.  Compliance with pollution regulations still sit within the citizens of Medellin and thus far, few are making a corresponding effort to get out of their private vehicles and use the human powered or public transportation options available to them.

Gisela Posada, Director of Public Relations at the University of Antioquia and the spokeswoman for the G8 (a group of eight universities that came together to formulate environmental proposals). “The time has come to raise your voice against the cloud of smoke that attests  the streets. As citizens we must be more responsible and demanding with our leaders,” says Posada. She warns that, in case an environmental emergency is declared, the worst thing would be for children to be the victims of the event: “The most outrageous thing was that last year, children were prohibited from doing physical education in schools. Is that going to happen again? “

Map of the pollution

José Fernando Duque, a geologist and Earth Sciences research professor at Eafit University, believes that the authorities have a responsibility to find a solution for this issue but the citizens of Medellin need to be accountable and actively participate in the efforts to reduce pollution by changing their everyday habits. He understands that there isn’t simple solution to the problem and that  the matter is further complicated because the air-polluting particles are so tiny that the human eye can’t see them and therefore the people of Medellin don’t give the subject the importance it deserves. His said,

“Nos enfermamos y no sabemos que es por la mala calidad del aire. Y viviremos 40 años con este problema.”

Translated as:

“We get sick and we do not understand it’s because of the poor air quality. And we will live 40 years with this problem.”

He urges the private and public sectors to join in the adoption of measures to solve environmental chaos.

Life Expectancy (Both Sexes) 74.425 years 98th
Life Expectancy (Male) 70.912 years 105th
Life Expectancy (Female) 78.014 years  89th

Colombia Population. (2017, February 08). Retrieved February 25th, 2017, from

The 2015 data and the words of Councilman Simón Molina, more than 3,000 people die annually in Medellin from pulmonary and cardiorespiratory diseases, associated with poor air quality.

The most recent census of 2014 showed there were 1,234,946 vehicles and motorcycles in Medellín metropolitan area with that number rising significantly each year. It is estimated that by 2030 the total number will be one million cars and one million motorbikes. These vehicles contribute 80% of the contamination and pollution related to air quality.

Low life expectancy in Medellin

Carlos Hoyos, director of Siata, states that in recent years the life expectancy of Colombians has increased to around 70 years, but the threat of poor air quality will cause that number decrease unless changes happen soon.

The mayor of Medellín, Federico Gutiérrez, does not deny the seriousness of the problem. After a recent orange alert triggered by the  high levels of air pollution in the City Center, he said:

“This is a wake-up call. Red means that the air you breathe is already harmful to your health and you have to take action. We all pollute, we all contribute to it.” He invited citizens to use private vehicles less often and take advantage of bicycles and public transport. The Metropolitan Area of the Valley Aburrá asked him to initiate more severe controls on polluting vehicles, especially dump trucks and buses, going as far as grounding them and preventing them from moving.

“For us it is impossible to rule out an environmental emergency. There are atmospheric changes caused by the pollution that we all contribute to, and at any moment we can return to emergency levels” Gutiérez added.

The City of Medellin conducted an epidemiological study of vehicle pollutants which are almost invisible and go directly to the blood and lungs. The goal of the report was to clarify the real health impact of on the citizens of Medellin, However at this time, there are no published results for this analysis.


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