Rio's Olympic air: Dirty, deadly and no cleaner legacy from Games

Mon Aug 1, 2016 11:19am EDT
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By Brad Brooks

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro's air is dirtier and deadlier than portrayed by authorities and the Olympics' promised legacy of cleaner winds has not remotely been met, an analysis of government data and Reuters' own testing found.

Brazil declared in its official bid for the Olympic Games, which open on Friday, that Rio's air quality was "within the limits recommended by the World Health Organization."

That was not true when Rio won the right to host the Games in 2009 and it is not true now.

Rio for years has surpassed WHO limits for the most dangerous air pollutant - called particulate matter (PM) - spewed from millions of vehicles clogging the city's roads.

Thousands die annually in Rio's metropolitan area of 12 million people because of complications related to the air. People exposed to the pollution have higher risks of lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, asthma and other diseases.

"This is definitely not 'Olympic air'," said Paulo Saldiva, a University of Sao Paulo pathologist and member of the WHO committee that set tougher global pollution standards in 2006.

"A lot of attention has been paid to Rio's water pollution, but far more people die because of air pollution than the water," he said. "You are not obligated to drink water from Guanabara Bay but you must breathe Rio's air."

Rio's contaminated Olympic waterways have drawn attention as the city suffers endemic levels of gastrointestinal diseases from a lack of sewage collection. Reuters recently reported that Rio's Olympic water venues and favorite beaches also tested positive for drug-resistant "super bacteria."   Continued...

A machine tests for PM 2.5 levels in front of 2016 Rio Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 17, 2016. Picture taken June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes