World Cup Barbecues Threaten Smog Emergency in Santiago

Chile’s government urged soccer fans to refrain from traditional barbecues after watching the national team in the World Cup today because the clouds of smoke from charred meat were worsening the capital’s smog.

“When we have low winds and we’re at critical levels what we are saying is that people should avoid burning charcoal because that makes the air quality worse,” Claudio Orrego, the government official responsible for the Santiago region, told reporters today. “I’ve been the butt of a lot of jokes for this and I take it with humor, but I also urge people to take it seriously.”

After the country’s June 13 game against Australia, thousands of barbecues almost caused an environmental emergency that led to restrictions on transport in smog-bound Santiago. The Chilean capital sprawls across a shallow bowl between the snow-capped Andes Mountains on the east and a coastal range to the west. During the winter months pollution is trapped by a layer of cold air, leading to health problems.

Orrego blamed the June 13 cookouts for triggering an environmental alert the following day. A single barbecue can burn 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of charcoal and cause as much particle pollution as one of Santiago’s aging public buses pumps out over 40 kilometers (24 miles), La Tercera reported.

Environmental Alert

Santiago has had four days of environmental alert. Today Orrego declared a “pre-emergency,” banning wood-burning stoves and restricting the use of cars. Authorities have ordered more than 1,000 companies in the Santiago area to close today.

“It all adds up,” Orrego said today. “One barbecue isn’t a problem. But when you have a pre-emergency and there are 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 barbecues with charcoal or wood it is undoubtedly a contributor.”

Chile defeated Spain 2-0 today in Rio de Janeiro, ending the reigning world champions’ hopes of progressing to the second round of the tournament.

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