I discovered recently an article from 2015 comparing the norms of air quality in Latin America. It provides some interesting perspective about the air quality in Latin America:
every single country is have a different scale, with different conventions for the colors, concentration breakpoints and nomenclature.
It complemented my understanding of the particular situation of Santiago (i.e. it's not that Santiago produces more pollution than other cities, but that it cannot afford to produce pollution at the same level as other cities in the world):
For instance, for Santiago de Chile, it is both the topography formed by the Andes in the East preventing the pollution from dispersing latteraly, and the constant stream of air from the Hadley cell circulation which prevents the pollution from escaping upwards (creating an inverstion [sic] layer).
And it confirmed what I already observed, that the Chilean air quality standards are much more relaxed than the ones from the US.
But it is the following array which made this information more concrete for me:
The third and fourth row (range 100 to 200), labeled as "Regular" ("Usual") in Chile, receive labels such as "Unhealthy", "Muy Malo" ("Very Bad"), "Precaucion" ("Precaution"), "Inadecuado" ("Inadequate"), "Muito Ruim" ("Very Bad"). At this level of polution in Chile, NO MEASURES are taken to reduce polution (such measures start at the next level, "Alerta").
The reactions from Chileans with whom I shared the information follow two templates: people from low social levels are resigned and feel they can't do anything about the situation, while people from high social levels like to believe that they live in a place where the air quality is better (close to the sea, or high in the mountain) and advise me to do the same. Neither group believe in changing the situation :(
It's not only in Santiago that the air quality is getting worse: all over the world, cities are setting up norms to deal with air pollution and keep it at "reasonable" levels. The Chilean approach seems to be more about improving the "appearances" by changing the alert thresholds than about truly dealing with the problem. I wonder which effects such a policy will have on the life expectancy of the inhabitants of Santiago (and on mine)...