Clean Air, Sure, But Not During Fire
Santa Fe has relatively clean air is pretty obvious to anyone who bothers to
look around. That the city is among the top 10 urban areas with the cleanest
air on the planet, however, seems a little surprising — especially since our
nearest competitors on the list, compiled by the World Health Organization,
seem to be mostly smallish towns in the vast (and relatively unpopulated)
we’ll take good news wherever we find it. Particulates can cause heart disease,
lung cancer, asthma and respiratory infections, and the number of premature
deaths from such problems has risen since 2004, according to WHO.
health organization recommends that for the good health of citizenry, cities’
particulate air pollution shouldn’t surpass 20 micrograms per cubic meter.
Santa Fe has six micrograms of tiny, breathable particulates per cubic meter,
on average. Contrast that with 18 micrograms in Washington, D.C., 23 micrograms
in Tokyo or 38 micrograms in the City of Light, Paris.
four Canadian cities with cleaner air than Santa Fe, incidentally, are tiny —
Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory, has only 21,000 people compared
with Santa Fe’s 60,000-plus. Likewise Clearlake, Calif., near Santa Fe in the
clean air sweepstakes, has a population of under 20,000.
Environment Department officials credit Santa Fe’s relatively small size
(compared with world capitals like Paris and Tokyo) — as well as its
non-manufacturing economy — as the most significant contributors to the city’s
there’s the lucky circumstance that prevailing wind currents don’t bring
particulate pollution from the state’s dirtiest areas — oil and gas facilities
in northwest and southeast, not to mention the notorious coal-burning Four
Corners power plant — toward Santa Fe.
Fe isn’t a transportation hub, either — and even with our habitual reliance on
wood-burning during the winter, the city doesn’t suffer from the “brown cloud”
syndrome that afflicts neighboring Albuquerque during the cold season’s
this notwithstanding, we’ve got a couple of questions about the WHO ratings.
There’s no evidence, for example, that WHO was interested in radionuclides —
the bugaboo of environmental worry-warts obsessing over the City Different’s
proximity to Los Alamos and its nuclear laboratory.
there’s the fact that the particulates measured for the air quality rankings
were 10 micrometers of less in size — teeny-tiny, in other words. But what
about those giant flakes of ash from the Las Conchas Fire that fell all over
Santa Fe in late June? Or the subsequent smoky pall that enveloped northern New
Mexico and even southern Colorado for the best part of the following month?
we can surmise is that, luckily for Santa Fe, WHO must have been measuring air
quality during some time other than the wildfire season.