The National Policy for Air Quality, which is in progress in Congress, is one of the incidences of iCS grantees in the fight for the well-being of Brazilians. Another example is the installation of a climate and air monitoring station in a community in São Paulo.
In the 1970s, the strike at a cement factory in São Paulo extrapolated the debate for better wage and working conditions for the workers. The women of the workers entered into the fight and included another issue in the mobilization that took place on the streets: air pollution from the chimneys of the company that invaded, on a daily basis, the homes, schools and every corner of Perus, which is the community where the factory was located. Queixadas, as the movement became known, still serves as an inspiration for residents who return to the issue of air quality from other perspectives. A weather station was installed in November 2021, in the neighborhood, which, for the first time, had data, including about pollution, from the actual region.
“Isn’t it a satellite dish? What is it? These are the questions that came from the residents who passed by the station and became interested in the subject. Thinking about environmental racism and climate change is also bringing this equipment closer to these people and providing awareness about what is affecting their lives,” explains Thaís Santos, better known as Tata, the coordinator from Uneafro Brasil. The Peregum Black Reference Institute, in partnership with Uneafro, has installed two stations at strategic points in the extremes of São Paulo. In addition to Perus, in the northwest zone of the municipality of São Paulo, the municipality of Poá, in the metropolitan region, was also included.
The stations form part of a series of actions, supported by the Institute for Climate and Society, with the objective of improving air quality for Brazilians. From the National Congress to the STF, the work of climate advocacy and litigation has allowed advances that result in achievements for the whole of society, such as the National Policy for Air Quality, which has already passed through two commissions at the National Congress.
Pollution today, along with the impacts of climate change, is one of the main concerns when the subject is the relationship between health and environment. Its effects are so harmful that it already exceeds the mortality from diseases caused by unhealthy water or transmitted by vectors. According to experts, poor air quality can harm health throughout life. In addition to lung diseases, other diseases are associated with it, such as cardiovascular diseases, strokes, a disposition to cancer and diabetes, as well as the damage to the cognitive development in children and dementia in the elderly.
The benefits of a new law
Bill 10521/2018, which concerns the National Policy for Air Quality, was approved by the commission for the Environment and Sustainable Development, of the Chamber of Deputies, in May this year. The Bill establishes the division of clearer and more objective responsibilities between the different branches of the nation, the Government, the States, the Federal District and the municipalities, for the management of air quality. Deadlines were also defined for the Government to prepare the missing regulations in the regulatory environment.
The Bill also provides other benefits. It lists, among the emission sources, those that must be the object of management, such as agrosilvopastoral systems, in addition to establishing the relationship between greenhouse gases (GHG) and atmospheric pollution, through the mutual benefits generated by the reduction and control of both (due to the impacts on the environment, health and climate change).
The Institute for Health and Sustainability (ISS), which is supported by iCS, started the construction of the National Policy for Air Quality. “Air is a subject of little dedication even by the government. There has always been a greater dedication to water, forests and biodiversity,” explains Evangelina Vormittag, the executive director of the institute. 15 years ago, ISS began to work with the subject of air from a health point of view. More recently, it has included the debate about health in the climate agenda. “Vehicle source, fires and industry… it all has to do with air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases,” recalls Evangelina.
Camila Acosta, a project manager, evaluates the important achievements of the country in this area. However, she still believes that there is much to be done. “Brazil is a very backward country, with many outdated policies.” According to her, the monitoring of air quality exists in very few Brazilian states, which has an impact on future public policies.
ISS leads a hub of players, supported by iCS, who work in different thematic niches with the objective of seeking air quality for Brazilians. Among the actors that are fighting for the initiatives and results in this area are the Coalização Respirar, the International Council for Clean Transport (ICCT), Vital Strategies Brasil, WRI Brasil, the Institute for Consumer Protection (IDEC), the Alana Institute and the Rede Nossa São Paulo.
Impacts on children
Alana has also launched the Free to Play campaign, with Families for the Climate, with the intention of providing greater visibility to the problem of pollution and how it affects children. Currently, research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has disclosed that 93% of the world’s children breathe polluted air. In addition to working on the National Policy for Air Quality, in 2020, the Coalizão Respirar, which is a network formed by about 20 civil society entities, submitted a manifesto with six public requests to change the scenario, at the time of the pandemic, for a fair economic recovery, with clean air and a better quality of life for our society. Among the suggestions, the encouragement was included for the use of renewable energies and cleaner fuel technology.
According to the WHO, 7 million deaths are recorded worldwide per year, in all age groups, of which 600,000 are children. The data is compiled in the study “The State of Air Quality in Brazil,” which was coordinated by the WRI.
Another study, published last month, also shows the urgency for the subject in Brazil. The air pollution in the city of SP has been above the figure recommended by the WHO for the last 22 years, according to a technical note published by the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEMA). This was true even in the years of the pandemic (2020 and 2021). In some parts of the city, the excess of the atmospheric pollutants of particulate matter (PM 2.5 and 10), ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were four times that indicated by the WHO.
Deadlines for less polluting vehicles
Also, in relation to the air quality in the country, one more advance was identified with the National Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (ANFAVEA), which, arguing with respect to the adversities arising from the pandemic scenario, had requested the postponement of the new phases of the Program for the Control of Vehicular Emissions (Proconve), which is a program that establishes deadlines for the production of new and less polluting models. However, the Federal Prosecutor promoted the shelving of the lawsuit, and reiterated the need to maintain the originally established deadlines.
The decision was based on the lack of evidence regarding the possible technical and operational difficulties arising from the pandemic. The decision of the Federal Prosecutor guarantees the priority of the air quality and the right to a healthy environment, and was significantly based on the opinion offered by the Air Quality Work Group of the Federal Prosecution Office, which involved the participation of several iCS partners, including the Institute for Health and Sustainability (ISS)
The effects on workers
Tata Santos, from Uneafro, assesses that the workers who use public transport are those most vulnerable to the effects of pollution. “What kills is not only the police bullet. There are deaths that up to now have not been accounted for. Deaths that arise from these scenarios of the environmental dimension. Workers waste hours travelling between their homes and their employment, all the time inhaling the traffic pollution.” For her, the discussion about environmental racism is urgent.
“Climate always was a topic for the community,” she explains. “But it was never questioned. They said the flooding was becoming constant. But why? There was no such debate. The number of accidents and deaths due to climate events has been increasing. Accordingly, bringing this debate to the community through the use of the station will be very important.” Tata celebrates that, with the data from the new station, the community has started to tell its own story. Before, the reference point was the station at the Mirante de Santana, which is a long way from the community.
The data regarding pollution is still being analyzed and will be published, according to Tata, in June this year. However, the survey of the accumulated rainfall data already points out the difference that the collection of the data within the area of the community has made. Between December 16 and 17, 2021, the index in Perus reached 116.7 mm. However, at the official meteorological station for the city of São Paulo – the Mirante de Santana – an accumulated rainfall of only 74.8 mm was recorded.
From Queixadas to the fight against pollution
A resident of Perus, Sheila Moreira, 39, grew up listening to the story in which her grandfather played a leading role, the Queixadas Strike. She and five other women created the Sebastião Silva de Souza Queixadas Memorial Center, named after her grandfather Tião, in order to commemorate this movement that is part of the community’s history.
At a school in Perus, women sweep away the cement dust from a factory located in the community. Credit: Sebastião Silva de Souza Queixadas Memorial Center
The center revives the fight of the workers in Perus Credit: Sebastião Silva de Souza Queixadas Memorial Center
“The strike was related to the terrible working conditions. The lack of use of a filter by the cement factory was another demand that remained hidden next to the other claims. In the mid-1970s, the women began to organize marches against the cement dust. They said it looked like there was snow on the streets of the community,” recalls Sheila. . The women joined forces and protested: The cement dust crushes lives. They closed down the main roads. Queixadas left the fight for permanent unity and firmness as a legacy in the community, according to Sheila, because the strike went on for seven years. The factory finally stopped operating in the 1980s.
The website of the Memorial Center will also publish information about the meteorological station and intends to discuss the effects of climate change with the residents. “When our memories are appropriated, we are also empowered. It is one thing to generate data from the outside, it is another for Perus to have its own station. Generating data and making history. And bringing the climate agenda to the community in a way that passes through them,” believes Sheila.