Chile declares environmental emergency over polluted Santiago

SANTIAGO (REUTERS) - The Chilean authorities declared an environmental emergency for the Santiago metropolitan region for Monday, forcing more than 900 industries to temporarily shut down and about 40 per cent of the capital's 1.7 million cars off the roads. "We're currently facing unusual conditions, with one of the driest Junes in over 40 years as well as really bad air circulation conditions in the Santiago valley in recent days, which boosts the concentration of contamination," the Environment Ministry said in a statement.

The emergency, the first since 1999, will be in place for 24 hours and can be extended further if the authorities deem conditions have not improved.

The Environment Ministry could not immediately provide Reuters with a list of what industries will be forced to suspend operations on Monday.

People in the Santiago area were also advised to avoid outdoor exercise, though such activity was not prohibited. Chile is in the midst of hosting the Copa America soccer tournament. The next game is scheduled for Wednesday.

A lack of rain and winds have allowed concentrations of small breathable particulate matter known as PM2.5 to build up, shrouding the city in smog. Particulate matter can enter the lungs and bloodstream and has been linked to heart disease, respiratory difficulties and environmental damage.

Cold temperatures this time of the year prompt many residents to use wood-burning heaters, which vastly worsens air quality.