New Smog Plan for Mexico


AFTER a week of record-high smog levels and apocryphal warnings from ecologists, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari issued a stern ultimatum to the 35,000 industries in Mexico City: Clean up or ship out.

The "Ecology Pact" unveiled Tuesday gives the 220 worst polluters in the metropolis 18 months to slash their output of suspended particles by 90 percent. Nitrogen oxide must be cut by 50 percent within a year.

In six months or less, Mr. Salinas said, "I want evidence of improvement."

The government is offering $300 million in financing to help defray the cost of installing antipollution devices. By 1994 all industries must meet government norms or leave the city. Last year, surprise inspections of 1,150 factories revealed that only 5 percent met environmental standards.

Other goals of the sweeping program include:

* Reducing petroleum consumption by industry by 5 percent in two years.

* Cutting organic solvents used in paint production by 10-15 percent in nine months.

* Beginning annual emission inspections of factories by privately contracted firms (to avoid potential corruption).

* Bringing prices of unleaded gas into parity with leaded gas (now cheaper), boosting unleaded gas production, and placing restrictions on use of autos that lack catalytic converters.

While industrialists voiced support for the program, the National Chamber of Manufacturing Industries has complained that industry was being unfairly targeted. Record high smog levels last week triggered Phase II of an emergency plan: 40 percent of all privately-owned autos in the city were not permitted to circulate, children were kept home from school for a day, and factories were forced to cut production by 50 percent.

Environmentalists agree that roughly 80 percent of all air pollutants are generated by gasoline-powered vehicles. City officials on Tuesday confirmed that industry only accounted for 8.4 percent of total emissions. But factories were responsible for belching 78 percent of the sulfur dioxide, 68 percent of the suspended particles (heavy metals, dust), and 24 percent of the nitrogen oxide pollutants into the city air.

Last Sunday, Mayor Manuel Camacho Solis announced the emergency pollution control plan would stay in effect for the next month or until conditions improve. The plan extends the "One-Day-Without-a-Car" program to two days a week plus one weekend day per month. The 220 worst polluters were ordered to reduce plant production by 30 percent.

Although cutbacks are temporary, they are hurting profits. The manager of Casanova Car Rentals complains that 40 percent of his fleet is off the road at a time when demand is up from business people stuck without cars. But there are some winners. Taxi driver Alejandro Solis Aguilar says he has seen a 10 percent jump in business. Bus and subway ridership has soared. Parents are scrambling to rework car pool schedules.

"We have to cooperate and await the results," says Lea Corkidi, mother of a five year old. "But it sure complicates life."

City officials note that progress has been made in bringing nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide levels down in the last two years. But ozone levels continue to hit new highs, and soaring gasoline consumption is blamed.

The Spanish Embassy recently installed air purifiers in its building and allotted employees 10 extra days of vacation. Argentine diplomats here get five "ecology" days to spend outside the city but not outside the country. Italy, Canada, and the United States have shortened the posting period here.

Ecologists point to the record auto sales since the Day-Without-a-Car program began as many residents bought second cars to circumvent the restriction. Mayor Camacho Solis recently admitted that the program no longer seems effective in reducing pollution levels.

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