“Nobody has died because of contamination. I mean, I do not want to create a health public alarm, because we are not at that level”, said Isabel Díaz Ayuso, President of the Community of Madrid in an interview in CadenaSER, a Spanish national radio broadcaster, on the 1st of January 2020. Her allegation, that nobody in Madrid has died because of contamination, is incorrect.
Who is Isabel Díaz Ayuso?
Isabel Díaz Ayuso is a Spanish politician who is currently part of Partido Popular (Popular Party), the most influential right-wing party in Spain. She is specialized in Political Communication and most of her work in her party has been around this issue. Díaz Ayuso ran with some regional campaigns in the communications area and she has worked as a spokesperson in the Assembly of the Community of Madrid. In 2019, she was chosen as the leader of her party’s election list and she won the regional elections in May 2019.
Díaz Ayuso was invited on New Year’s Day to CadenaSER, a Spanish radio broadcaster. During her interview, one of the debated topics was the case of (air) pollution in Madrid. Pollution is a hot topic in both the city and Community of Madrid mainly because of many projects that are going on to reduce it. One measure was taken by the former mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, and is a law that restricts traffic in the capital city of Spain, in order to decongest the city from pollution. This measure has been criticized by Díaz Ayuso’s political party, and is one of the corner stones in the 2019 election campaign. Therefore, the current President was asked about this topic during the radio broadcast.
Context of the claim
During her interview, Díaz Ayuso made some quotes about pollution that made a huge impact in Spanish media: “Nobody has died because of contamination. I mean, I do not want to create a health public alarm, because we are not at that level. Madrid is one of the cities in the world with the greatest longevity, with one of the best public transport systems. People are not going to die. Taking into account how this topic is usually shown, I do not think it is real”. The video of the interview is in Spanish and can be seen on YouTube, the quote can be heard on the 18:58 timestamp.
Transcription of the interview
Journalist of CadenaSER: “There has to be a balance between the ones who wants to enter to Madrid and the ones who live in Madrid, in downtown, and do not want to die polluted.”
Isabel Díaz Ayuso: “Sure, but that (the balance) obviously is always going to exist. Nobody has died because of this. I mean, I do not want to create a health public alarm because there is not in Madrid. Madrid is one of the cities with the greatest longevity in the world, with one of the best public transport systems, and there are renewing more and more boilers and vehicles. The most important thing is to keep boosting use of public transport, because they voluntarily want, to pedestrianise those special areas that might be important touristically, etc. Cities are going to be more and more destined to this scenario, and is obvious that we have to reach to this point. But, no one is going to die, taking into account how this topic is shown, I do not think it is real. Obviously nobody likes pollution and we have to stop it little by little, but Madrid, in this topic, I think is doing things properly and the idea is keep on for greener and cleaner cities.“
Response to Diaz Ayuso’s claim
As Díaz Ayuso made this statement, Spanish media put this polemic claim on all front pages, and of course, it had consequences. The current mayor of the city of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida (from Díaz Ayuso’s same political party) defended her colleague, highlighting that “no one said that Díaz Ayuso denied that relation” and that her claim was taken “out of context”. Martínez-Almeida also blamed left parties as “they have taken just a sentence and not the whole context”.
In the opposition, left wing party PSOE showed their concern about Díaz Ayuso’s declaration, as she is “undermining the effects pollution causes”. They also branded as “terrible and pathetic Díaz Ayuso’s ignorance and frivolity”.
After fact-checking this claim, there is no doubt that this is a false allegation. In order to dismantle it, there are several reports that give scientific evidence of the relationship
between pollution and rise of death. First of all, we will start with worldwide data. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report in 2018, having data collected in 2016, that atmospheric pollution provokes around 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide. This mortality is due to exposure to small particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM 2.5), which cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancers.
Then, we got data about this health problem on a European level. This report has been checked, as WHO claims that the 91% of 4.2 million premature deceases are mainly focused in South-East Asia and Pacific Regions. In March 2019, the European Health Journal magazine estimated that 790.000 people died prematurely from air pollution in Europe.
Finally, there are also national reports that deny Díaz Ayuso’s version. In 2018, DKV insurance company released a detailed report about the Spanish situation in pollution terms. The report, called El aire que respiras: la contaminación atmosférica en las ciudades (PDF, “The air you breath: atmospheric pollution in cities”), calculated that around 100.000 people died during 2000-2009 due to health problems derived from atmospheric pollution. From this 100.000 deaths, 16.000 corresponded to Madrid.
Going back to Díaz Ayuso’s claim, “nobody has died because of contamination”. In order to prove the reliability of this affirmation, several global, European and Spanish reports have been checked. In all of them, the main outcome is the high amount of premature deaths provoked by atmospheric pollution. Every year, 4.2 million people die worldwide because of contamination. In Europe, this number almost reached the 800.000 barrier. Around 100.000 suffered the consequences of polluted air in Spain during the 2000-2009 period. 16.000 from 100.000 pollution-related deaths occured in Madrid, the province Díaz Ayuso’s is the president of. To sum up, the claim from the President of the Community of Madrid is false.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE ©Jon Larrachea Coscarat, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, NL