Air quality in El Salvador. How bad is it? What can we do?

By Eddie Vasquez  |  Mar 5th, 2022
Air quality in El Salvador
Air Pollution in El Salvador.

The air quality in El Salvador is poor, this is due to several factors related to contamination and pollution. Older vehicles in circulation, agricultural burning practices, lack of emissions regulation, and solid waste disposal, are some of the main factors affecting pollution that lead to poor air quality.

The issue of air quality is something the entire country has to deal with on a daily basis. However, this problem is worse and more visible in densely populated areas of the country; cities such as San Salvador, San Miguel, Santa Ana, and Soyapango, to name a few, are some of the most affected.

Major factors that affect air quality in El Salvador.

The poor air quality in El Salvador is a direct result of the pollution problem. The following are some of the factors that create widespread pollution issues that lead to poor air quality.

Older vehicles in circulation.

A large percentage of cars in El Salvador are older models that produce high volumes of smog and carbon monoxide. These toxins emitted by these older vehicles pollute the atmosphere and lead to bad air quality.

Agricultural burning practices.

Buring agricultural fields is a way Salvadoran farmers remove crop residues left in the dirt after harvesting grains, such as corn. It is a fast way to clear the areas for the new harvest; however, it has an adverse effect when it comes to pollution and air quality.

The burning of agricultural fields causes severe pollution issues on a local as well as regional scale. It increases ozone pollution, and it has adverse consequences on the quality of the soil.

Air quality in El Salvador
El Salvador traffic.

Lack of emissions regulation or enforcement.

According to the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, MARN. Vehicles are the most extensive contributors to air pollutants in the country; this is more evident in larger cities such as San Salvador.

A high percentage of pollution in the country comes from the smoke emitted by private vehicles and public transportation. As of today, I am not aware of the country’s emission requirements for public transport or private automobiles. The lack of emissions regulation leads to more pollution and poor air quality.

Salvadoran Public buses
Salvadoran public buses.

Solid waste disposal.

The trash problem in El Salvador is one that can be seen all over its territory. Almost anywhere, you will see trash all over the streets or on the side of the roads.

The way some municipalities get rid of solid waste leads to contamination and pollution, which affects air quality. For example, some burn the trash in open fields, which leads to smoke getting into the atmosphere and contaminating the air.

On the other hand, others just leave the waste in designated areas to decompose; this also leads to air contamination.

By all means, these are not the only contaminating factors that affect pollution and air quality in the country. Many other factors were not mentioned, for example, population growth, deforestation, and factory regulations, to name a few.

How bad is it right now?

Well, the answer will vary depending on what part of the country you live in; or what part of the country you spend most of your time in.

Areas such as San Salvador, Soyapango, Ilopango, San Miguel, or Santa Ana are some of the worse. Undoubtedly, these are larger cities that have more people and more cars on it.

On the other hand, smaller towns such as Sensuntepeque, Juayua, Panchimalco, or Suchitoto, are not as bad. In these towns, there are fewer people and fewer cars.

El Salvador’s Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI)

The real-time air quality index measures the current level of air quality in a specific area. It is a ranking that begins at 1, which is good and goes all the way to 500, which is critical.

0-50 Good
51-100 Moderate
101-150 Unhealthy for sensitive groups.
151-200 Unhealthy
201-300 Very Unhealthy
301+ Hazardous

As of now, in 2020, El Salvador has three measuring locations, all of them located in the San Salvador area; there is one in Santa Tecla, one in the downtown area, and one on the campus of the UTEC.

The air quality daily historical data from the downtown location shows the following; in 2020, this location has had a day with a low of 15 and a day with 157, which is high. Click here to view the current Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) for this location.

Emphatically, I do believe that El Salvador needs to have more air quality measuring locations all over its territory. I don’t know if this is something that can be done right now, but it should be done at some point.

What can we do?

Answering the question of what can we do, to deal with the problem of air quality in El Salvador, is easy. However, implementing these answers or actually doing them is the hard part.

The following are my personal views on what we can do as individuals or society to reduce pollution in the country.

To begin with, the government has to find a way to stop older cars from circulating or find a way for them to produce less harmful toxins.

Additionally, the government has to create laws that deal with emission problems, especially when it comes to public buses. Evidently, there are so many buses in circulation that produce so much smoke that is scary.

Then, there is the trash problem; we need to make sure we recycle and do our part by not throwing trash into the streets. Furthermore, we need to get involved and make sure the municipality we live in is disposing of this waste, the correct way.

Lastly, when it comes to agricultural burning practices, I don’t have an opinion. Obviously, something has to be done, but I am not a farmer and don’t have a clue on how to deal with this issue. If anyone has a solution that I can recommend, please email me at [email protected] and share it with me.

Undoubtedly, it is easy for me to mention things on how to deal with the air quality problem in El Salvador. Nonetheless, it is difficult to put them into practice as an individual or society. But it has to be done if we want to prevent the air quality from getting worse.

El Salvador traffic
Traffic in El Salvador. Photo by @ObrasPublicasSV

Air quality in El Salvador.

The poor air quality in El Salvador is a problem that we, as Salvadorans, must deal with before it gets worse. According to the World Health Organization, 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. Let’s find a way to get involved in solving this issue that affects all of us. We need to leave a better country for the next generations.