Sérgio Ricardo Pacheco Granado

Smoke Curtain: cities where breathing has been difficult

17 de February de 2021

Mesmo a quilômetros de distância do epicentro do fogo, cidades do Mato Grosso do Sul estão com o céu encoberto por fumaça e a temperatura nas alturas. O sol até saiu, mas não foi possível enxergar.

Even miles away from the epicenter of the fire, cities in Mato Grosso do Sul have dawned with the sky covered in smoke and the temperature in the heights. The sun even came out, but it was hard to see.


Last Monday Morning (11) in Corumbá, MS – Photo Sérgio Ricardo Pacheco Granado

Corumbá and Ladário are about 206 kilometers away from Porto Jôfre, where the Encontro das Águas National Park and the jaguar sanctuary are located and one of the places that has been severely damaged by this year’s fires. About 85% of the park has already been affected by the fire. Until September 13, the fires consumed 2.9 million hectares ( 7.2 million acres) of Pantanal, according to information from local firefighters and data from the National Institute of Space Research.


The city next to Corumbá, Ladário is known as ” Little Princess of the Pantanal” and also suffers with the pollution caused by the burning: the image was made on Sunday morning | Photo: Sérgio Ricardo Pacheco Granado

Another spot where fires spread between July and August is the region of Barão de Melgaço where the Sesc Pantanal is located, in the Private Reserve of Natural Heritage, the RPPN, in Mato Grosso. The distance between Barão de Melgaço and the National Park is more than 82 kilometers.

If we add the distance from the Reserve to the cities of Corumbá and Ladario we have almost 300 kilometers. But the smoke faced this distance. With temperatures reaching 40º C (104ºF ), the thermal sensation with dryness and air pollution was about 45º C (113ºF) between Friday and last Sunday.

Unhealthy condition

In research done in the meteorology site AccuWeather, Corumbá has as of this Wednesday (16) unhealthy condition for the inhabitants. The site explains: “Fine inhalable particles are inhalable pollutants with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers that can enter the lungs and bloodstream, resulting in serious health problems. The most serious impacts occur in the lungs and heart. Exposure to fine particles can result in coughing or difficulty breathing, worsening of asthma and the development of chronic respiratory diseases.


Visibility impaired by smoke in Corumbá – Photo: Sérgio Ricardo Pacheco Granado

In an interview to SOLOS, the researcher Paulo Saldiva, professor of the Department of Pathology at USP, states that air quality should be seen as a fundamental right and pollution as an affront to human dignity. Saldiva is one of the world’s leading authorities on air pollution. He is currently dedicated to researching deaths by Covid-19.

“Air pollution is inescapable. It’s as if you think of the Tietê River in São Paulo, which is much more polluted than the air of the Marginal. But you are not obliged to swim in the river. Pollution is unequal because it affects the sickest, the oldest, those who are less able to survive, so it confronts human dignity, the issue of fundamental rights of the person. It’s economically unsustainable. Pollution is a poor country thing,” explains Saldiva, recalling that it is much more costly for the health system to deal with these sick people than to combat pollution.

More than a decade ago, Saldiva and other researchers dedicated themselves to investigating sugarcane burning, very common in São Paulo, and the relationship with hospitalizations in nearby cities for respiratory diseases such as asthma and pneumonia. Some of these studies were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and among the conclusions is the fact that the pollution generated by the burning of biomass can be comparable to that generated by fossil fuel, i.e., by cars in large cities. Another conclusion, this one on the incidence of pneumonia, concluded that pollution can generate acute pictures of the disease, predominantly on the day of exposure to the pollutants.


Corumbá Bay with difficult visibility on September 11 – Photo: Sérgio Ricardo Pacheco Granado

Saldiva explains what particulate pollution consists of, and that generated by burning is an example, and why it is so harmful. “The particle has a solid substrate. It’s a carbon core, but it’s not pure. It’s a graphite tempered with other products of incomplete combustion, which are the hydrocarbon, heavy metals, but depending on what is burning, the type of hydrocarbon varies,” he points out.

Regarding heat and ultraviolet rays, Saldiva states that, yes, they are elements that also influence the air condition transforming the atmosphere of the place into a test tube. “You generate compounds that are called photochemical oxidants”.

The path in the human body

Smoking is extremely harmful to health. But you can choose to smoke or not. Now breathing is not a choice. “We have 10% of smokers in the Brazilian population, while [the population under the effect of] pollution is 100%,” points out Paulo Saldiva.

When a person inhales a gas, it will reach the lung and it doesn’t take long to get out of the body. The particles, due to the solid characteristic, will make a slow walk through the whole body, causing processes of inflammation where they pass through.


The cities near the places where the burning of the biome takes place suffer as if they were full of pollution from cars | Photo: Sérgio Ricardo Pacheco Granado


“There’s a cartography of the distribution of these particles that do not remain only in the lung. It ages the vessels, it crosses the umbilical cord and arrives in a fetus that is being generated. So when you have a pollutant in the solid phase and not in a gaseous phase, the length of stay and the capacity of distribution of it is greater. You increase the dialogue time between some crap that is in the lung and the epithelium on the side, gives a match and this cellular tinder can be cancer,” he concludes.