Air Pollution in Costa Rica

Air pollution in Costa Rica has been challenged by the combination of deforestation and increased transportation, manufacturing and construction. Fortunately the decreasing air quality was noticed and steps have been taken to turn around the problems. Costa Rica’s air quality is improving through the various efforts by citizens, organizations and government measures reducing its air pollution as a consequence.

The Republic of Costa Rica (literally, “Rich Coast”) is a small nation of 4.43 million people, about the size of West Virginia, located near the thinnest part of the Central American isthmus. Its land neighbors are Venezuela and Nicaragua to the south and north, respectively.

Costa Rica is an ecological treasure house, with the greatest density of species in the world. While Costa Rica has less than 0.1 percent of the world’s landmass, it is home to five percent of its species. The nation protects its bountiful biodiversity by preserving 25 percent of its landmass in national parks. (Costa Rica is also the only country in the world to constitutionally abolish its army.)

Eco-tourism and research funds are vitally important to Costa Rica’s economy, so the encroachments of air pollution and other forms of environmental destruction are of great concern. Costa Rica’s government pursues a foreign investment strategy that emphasizes industries with little or no air pollution emissions such as pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, and software development.

Costa Rica is “well ventilated”. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea on its long east and west sides, with over 1,400 miles of coastline, Costa Rica enjoys highly favorable natural air pollution control in the form of cleansing sea winds.

Costa Rica has long enjoyed a relatively low rate of air pollution emissions. Per capita CO2 emissions, for example, have been about one-third that of the Central American/Caribbean population and roughly 20 percent that of the world’s population since 1950. But per capita figures conceal the fact that Costa Rica’s CO2 annual emissions have risen nearly twelve-fold since 1960.

Trees absorb CO2, and Costa Rica’s rain forests are among its national treasures. Deforestation of rain forests has slowed considerably thanks to government regulation. In 1996, reforestation was approximately three times the rate of deforestation (21,738 hectares vs. 7,000 hectares).

Non-CO2 air pollution has grown, too. In 1995, Costa Rica generated 26,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide; 75,000 of nitrogen oxide; 658,000 of carbon monoxide; and 78,000 of non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Transportation generated 59 percent of Costa Rica’s CO2 emissions in 1999, followed by manufacturing and construction (15 percent); public electricity and heat production (3 percent); and residential heating and cooking sources (2 percent). To control automobile emissions, Costa Rica has mandated emissions testing, catalytic converters on news cars, lead-free gasoline, and development of electric vehicles through its Asociación Promotora de Vehículos Eléctricos.

Indoor air pollution in Costa Rica comes mainly from woodburning stoves used for cooking. Studies conducted by E. Park and R. Lee of the University of California, Davis campus, found that women and children were exposed to extremely high levels of particulate matter during cooking periods, although 24-hour average exposure levels were lower than National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The phrase, “Pura Vida”, literally “Pure Life”, is a common motto in Costa Rica. This tiny Central American nation’s commitment to preserving its natural wonders sets an example for the rest of the world. Presently air pollution in Costa Rica isn’t too bad, and hopefully they’ll take care to keep their air quality high.

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