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School Hours Changed Because of Air Pollution

January 4, 1988

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ By government decree, public schools in the Mexico City area began classes later than usual Monday because of dangerous air pollution caused by thermal inversions.

Children went to school at 10 a.m. rather than the usual 8 a.m. in a switch that will last for 45 days. The schedule affects 1.4 million children attending primary and secondary schools in the metropolitan area, according to Public Education Department estimates.

Thermal inversions occur when high cold air traps warmer air underneath, along with pollutants emitted by factories and vehicles. The inversions often do not break up until midday, when the sun’s rays are able to dissipate the cold air mass.

There were complaints from some parents accustomed to taking their children to school on the way to work and the newspaper Excelsior reported many youngsters were dropped off at schools at the regular hour.

Nemesio Zuniga, an office worker who commutes from his home in southern Mexico City to the downtown district, said now his children must wait outside his office each morning until it is time to take them to school.

″Even if the government wants to protect the children’s health, this measure only benefits those who live close to the schools, not those who live far away,″ Zuniga told a reporter. ″And the children will breathe the air pollution anyway.″

Mexico City is 7,392 feet above sea level in the Valley of Mexico, surrounded by mountains that impede the free flow of air.

Officials acknowledge that the metropolitan area, with a population of more than 18 million people, has severe air pollution.

Holiday vacations ended Monday and the city’s estimated 3 million vehicles, a leading source of pollution, returned to the streets.

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