Uruguay: Rethinking practices for better air quality

by Ministerio de Vivienda, Ordenamiento Territorial y Medio Ambiente (MVOTMA) - 17 August, 2016
CCAC supported workshop on "Good practices to improve air quality from firewood use in the residential and service sectors"

The CCAC Solution Center supported a workshop to improve air quality from firewood use in the residential and service sectors in Uruguay based on good practice elsewhere. Responding to a request from the Ministry for Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment of Uruguay, the CCAC activated its network and identified an expert from the Ministry of Environment of Chile. Chile has pioneered a series of air pollution de-contamination plans in cities around the country, addressing one of the main source of PM2.5 – heating using firewood (see videos).

Andrés Pica Telles, Head of the Office of Sustainable Heating and New Technologies of the Ministry of Environment, Chile, participated in the preparation of the workshop on "Good practices to improve air quality from firewood use in the residential and service sectors" and shared his country’s experience.

In August, Uruguay’s Metropolitan Agenda Program (El Programa Agenda Metropolitana) and Ministry for Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment (Ministerio de Vivienda, Ordenamiento Territorial y Medio Ambiente, MVOTMA) held a workshop with a number of public and private stakeholders from the country’s firewood sector, to analyze and promote good practices to reduce the sector’s impact on air quality.

Magdalena Hill, Chief of the Department of Air Quality, and CCAC Focal Point for Uruguay said Mr Telles’ contribution to the process was invaluable and emphasized how important it is for countries in the region to continue to work on these issues together.

“The transfer of experience from the Chilean model helped us discuss possible models for our country. We still have a lot to do to advance the air quality agenda but this exercise helped us make the links and formalize the work between the Health and Energy sectors to address the problem,” Ms Hill said. “Next steps include work on regulations – we have taken the first steps to sensitize the stakeholders about this. This type of cooperation is indispensable to advance.”

The August 2, 2016 workshop: "Good practices to improve air quality from firewood use in the residential and service sectors"

Although air quality does not currently represent a problem in Uruguay, the density, urban dynamics and activities in Montevideo and its metropolitan area, have led to air pollution exceeding established guide levels.

At the workshop opening, Alejandro Nario, National Director of Environment, MVOTMA, said there are possibilities and opportunities to address the issue in a timely manner in Uruguay.

"To work on this issue is to work for the quality of life and health of people," Mr Nario said. “On one hand we must focus on the technological aspects and on the other the cultural aspects."

Enrique Cabrera, Coordinator of the Metropolitan Agenda Program of the Office of the Presidency, which gathers the municipalities of Canelones, Montevideo and San José, stressed the importance of "working with a territorial and metropolitan approach" to design strategies and propose measures that improve air quality.

Uruguay’s air emissions inventory shows that the main contribution to particulate matter emissions comes from residential use of wood stoves for heating and broilers. This data is consistent with findings from the inventory of greenhouse gases developed by the Municipality of Montevideo. Air quality monitoring by the Municipality of Montevideo, which has been conducted over several years, shows a trend of steady increases in particulate material.

However, in its new guidelines the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using particulate matter measure of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) as an air quality indicator instead of the measure currently used of 10 microns (PM10). This new standard has recently been adopted by the Municipality of Montevideo for its monitoring practices and shows that the situation in relation to this parameter is not as good as previously believed, especially when temperatures are low.

Uruguay is in a position to take measures to prevent the continued increase of the current trend and prevent other air quality situations. To achieve this in Montevideo and the metropolitan area, a plan is being drafted which aims to have official air quality standards; strengthen monitoring, with an emphasis on PM2.5; have a control system; and develop educational and awareness actions on the issue.

The Chilean experience

The Decontamination Plans of Chile are currently being implemented, with a lot of lessons learnt. Despite differences in distances and realities, the Chilean experience enables the visualization of strategies, actions and alternatives that are beneficial for the care and improvement of air quality.

The plan being implemented in Chile includes a program to replace heaters with more efficient heating systems that use less fuel to generate the same energy, and are ultimately, less polluting.

Estrategia PDA Video
Video (in Spanish): Chile's Decontamination Program to reduce air pollution.
Remote video URL

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