Health officials recently warned that water sources in Rio are deadly threats to Olympic athletes competing in water events and the communities who rely on these sources to survive. Ingest as little as three teaspoons, and you’ll likely become sick. And now, a new study shows that breathing is also unsafe — the air in Rio is even more polluted than the waters.
When Brazil initially submitted a bid for the Olympic Games, opening Friday, they claimed that Rio’s air quality was “within the limits recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).”
Turns out, this wasn’t true. Rio has surpassed WHO limits of dangerous air pollutants for years, and thousands of people die annually because of health complications sourced from toxic air. People exposed to severe air pollution have significantly higher risks of lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and other diseases.
“A lot of attention has been paid to Rio’s water pollution, but far more people die because of air pollution than the water,” said Paulo Saldiva, a University of Sao Paulo pathologist and member of the WHO committee. “You are not obligated to drink the water from Guanabara Bay but you must breathe Rio’s air.”
Newsweek reported that according to government data, Rio's air has consistently contained two to three times greater content of pollution than the WHO deems safe. Two-thirds of the pollution caused comes from the 2.7 million cars on Rio's roads.
The alarming levels of contamination mean that Rio is among the dirtiest cities to host the Olympic Games — second only to Beijing.
Using the WHO's methodology on estimating mortality, it’s estimated some 5,400 people died in Rio because of air pollution in 2014 compared to the 3,117 murders.
These numbers are shocking, and the news is even worse for Olympic runners. Air quality has an impact on performance, decreasing performance levels by 0.2 percent.
"Rio's numbers are all too common for the developing world,” said Staci Simonich, a professor at Oregon State University who published an air pollution report on Beijing in 2009. “That is the sad reality."
By taking action on Global Citizen, you will have a chance to win tickets to this year's Global Citizen Festival in New York City on Sept. 24, 2016.