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Toxic air and water in Olympic Rio 2016

Daily inhalation of polluted air and exposure to contaminated water represent the greatest harmful environmental hazards. Greater attention to the problems, which have been present for decades, was acquired due to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro has been exceeding concentration limits for the most dangerous air pollutants – particulate matter (PM) –, set by the World Health Organization, for years. Although the city is trying to solve the problem, according to the World Health Organization 5,400 people died in Rio in 2014 due to air pollution. In Rio, the problem of air quality is even more acute in the summer, since high temperatures are associated with higher concentrations of ozone and there are exhaust and cooling devices adding to the pollution. They release fine particles, such as fine powder, which do not fall on the ground, but are spread in the air over a larger area. Analyses from Brazilian researchers have shown that the highest levels of air pollution due to particulate matter were measured right at the Olympic stadium. Inhalation causes problems with the lungs, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. These are increasingly serious problems of global cities in ensuring the quality of life. 90 % of European urban population is exposed to increased concentrations of air pollutants. Carbon dioxide and particulate matter, which are released to air due to natural processes and human activity – transport, agriculture, heating, waste incineration – in form of a powder, are increasing mortality and complicating our everyday life.

In addition to air pollution, a major problem, highlighted by the Olympic Games in Rio, is also water pollution. Water in Rio is supposed to be so contaminated that the organizers advise the athletes to cover their cuts or abrasions with waterproof plasters, try to avoid swallowing the water and generally minimize the time they spend in it. The World Health Organization assesses water quality as very poor. What does this mean for the locals, the daily life of more than 10 million people, and in general for the world, which is trying to take into account the guidelines for self-sustaining smart cities?

Often citizens do not even know what level of pollution they are exposed to, although the city is obliged to provide them with this information. Traceability of harmful emissions and waste is a difficult task, but in the cities there should not be any hesitation with this problems. The importance of sensor measurements and display of indicators of the quality of water and air are crucial for traceability and progress. In introducing proper measures to mitigate or completely curb the effects of pollution at the right time, the functionalities, provided by the platform for smart urban management, will be also at much use. If cities want to follow environmental standards, reduce the number of illnesses of their inhabitants and make targeted effort to less harmful substances, they will have to start changing their attitudes towards the environment and start acting. Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games may represent a shift towards a smarter and less polluted city, because the authorities have begun to take the problem seriously, when it was brought to the world public attention. Many locals indignantly wonder why it takes such a big event as hosting the Olympic Games to acknowledge the problems, with which they have been living for more than a decade. But if the Brazilians will really be able to enjoy better air and sea after the Olympic euphoria ends, only time will tell.

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