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School Vacations Extended Because of Smog

December 14, 1988

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The government will extend holiday vacations one month to allow the capital’s children to cut their exposure to increasing winter smog, a city official said Wednesday.

Officials from the federal health, education and ecology departments plan to sign an agreement extending the Dec. 15-Jan. 2 holiday vacation until Feb. 1, said city spokesman Jose Luis Manjarrez.

That and other measures designed to limit the effects of smog on Mexico City residents were to be published in Thursday’s edition of the government’s Official Gazette, Manjarrez said.

He said schoolchildren would make up the lost month of classes next summer. There are about 2.3 million students in Mexico City public schools, according to federal government statistics.

″We have agreed to protect the children of Mexico City and part of that is to change the school hours,″ Manjarrez said. ″We all know that the thermal inversion layer levels will be worse during the winter and that we have to take measures.″

Homer Aridjis, president of the Group of 100, a leading environmental organization, said the schedule change will do little to restrict smog exposure. School-age children are still breathing foul Mexico City air whether they are at school or at home, he said.

″The solution is not to change the school calendar,″ Aridjis said. ″It is not going to change the pollution situation. More drastic measures, such as less traffic, are necessary.″

Mexico City’s smog regularly worsens during winter when a layer of warm air traps cold air bearing tons of pollutants near ground level, a phenomenon known as a thermal inversion. The inversions last for hours and sometimes days.

The mountains that ring the Valley of Mexico, where Mexico City lies, prevent the dispersal of smog by winds; rains are scarce in winter, permitting winds to lift tons of dust bearing particle pollution and dried fecal matter off the dry Lake Texcoco lakebed.

About 18 million people live in the Mexico City metropolitan area.

Last winter, authorities temporarily delayed the start of public school classes by two hours to limit children’s exposure to early morning smog.

The 1988-89 winter smog season began in November, when ozone levels consistently hovered around 180 points on the ecology department’s Metropolitan Air Quality Index. Index readings are a 24-hour average of individual pollutant levels.

A reading of 101 to 200 points on the scale is considered poor; 201 to 300 points, very poor; and 301 to 500 points, dangerous. Pollutants monitored include ozone, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, unburned hydrocarbons and suspended particles.

The highest reading for the 24-hour period ending at noon Tuesday was 189 points in southwestern Mexico City.

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