Smoky Cooking Kills Millions

Businesses sell cans of charcoal for cooking at a market near Kisumu, Kenya, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Peter Kapuscinski / World Bank)

Businesses sell cans of charcoal for cooking at a market near Kisumu, Kenya, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Peter Kapuscinski / World Bank)

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 3, 2018 ( News) – Cooking with charcoal indoors is fatal to millions of people every year, according to new data released Wednesday by the World Health Organization. WHO says, in total, household and outdoor air pollution result in “an alarming death toll” of eight million people a year.

Cooking with polluting fuels and technologies, the main source of household air pollution, caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2016, while outdoor air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths that same year, WHO’s new database shows.

WHO says these deaths are due to exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, and this fine particulate matter is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases.

The agency estimates exposure to polluted air causes 24 percent of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25 percent from stroke, 43 percent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29 percent from lung cancer.

Major sources of particulates in the air include the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants.

In some regions, sand and desert dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of air pollution. Air quality can also be influenced by natural elements such as geographic, meteorological and seasonal factors.

More than 90 percent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by the low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took office in July 2017. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took office in July 2017. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than five times, representing a major risk to people’s health,” warns Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health.

The new data that WHO is presenting is now the world’s most comprehensive database on ambient air pollution.

And more cities are responding to the need to save lives by limiting emissions – at least they’re monitoring air quality. Dr. Neira says WHO is seeing “an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge.”

More than 4,300 cities in 108 countries are now included in WHO’s ambient air quality database together with the summary of results, methodology used for compiling the data and WHO country groupings is online at: WHO databases 

Since 2016, more than 1,000 additional cities have been added to WHO’s database, which shows that more countries than ever before are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution.

“The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring,” said Dr. Neira. “Most of this increase has occurred in high-income countries, but we hope to see a similar scale-up of monitoring efforts worldwide.”

The database collects annual mean concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). PM2.5 includes pollutants, such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose the greatest risks to human health.

The concentration of an air pollutant is given in micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic meter of air or µg/m3.

WHO air quality recommendations call for countries to reduce their air pollution to annual mean values of 20 μg/m3 (for PM10) and 10 μg/m3 (for PM25).

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California Berkeley students have made a new wood/biomass burning cookstove for internally displaced people in Darfur, Sudan. Manufactured locally by artisan metalworkers, it saves enough fuel so that the purchase price is affordable.

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California Berkeley students have made a new wood/biomass burning cookstove for internally displaced people in Darfur, Sudan.
Manufactured locally by artisan metalworkers, it saves enough fuel so that the purchase price is affordable.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian public health expert.

“It is unacceptable that over three billion people, most of them women and children, are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes,” he said.

“If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development,” he warned.

WHO has been monitoring household air pollution for more than a decade and,

while the rate of access to clean fuels and technologies is increasing everywhere, around three billion people – more than 40 percent of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes.

Improvements are not even keeping pace with population growth in many parts of the world, particularly in subSaharan Africa, WHO reports.

Because air pollution does not recognize borders, WHO says coordinated intergovernmental partnerships will be most effective in improving air quality. Countries need to work together on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management.

WHO works with many sectors – transport and energy, urban planning and rural development – to support countries in addressing their air quality problems.

“Political leaders at all levels of government, including city mayors, are now starting to pay attention and take action,” says Dr. Tedros. “The good news is that we are seeing more and more governments increasing commitments to monitor and reduce air pollution as well as more global action from the health sector and other sectors like transport, housing and energy.”

This year WHO will convene the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health to bring governments and partners together in a global effort to improve air quality and combat climate change. The conference is planned for October 30 – November 1 at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Remote participation will be facilitated by webcasting and live-streaming of the sessions.

Featured Image: Dinner is cooked on a three stone cook stove in Kisumu, Kenya. The EnDev Kenya Country Programme is helping to replace these older charcoal stoves with cleaner, less smoky wood-burning stoves. As of December 2015, 87,000 households had switched to the cleaner burning jiko kisasa (firewood stove). Nov. 16, 2016 (Photo by Peter Kapuscinski / World Bank)

World Puts First Limits on Mercury Emissions

Stainless steel balls at the Minamata Memorial Museau commemmorate the mercury exposure that killed thousands. (Photo by quirkyjazz)

Stainless steel balls at the Minamata Memorial Museau commemmorate the mercury exposure that killed thousands. (Photo by quirkyjazz)

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, August 17, 2017 ( News) – From now on, for the first time, emissions of the neurotoxic element mercury will be controlled by 74 countries List of ratifying countries as a global treaty took effect on Wednesday, protecting millions of children and infants from neurological and health damage.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury commits governments, including the United States, China and most European countries, to specific measures to limit mercury. The treaty bans new mercury mines, phases out existing mines, regulates artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reduces emissions and mercury use in medical devices by 2020.

Exposure to mercury can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system, particularly in unborn children and babies.

There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there any cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage.

Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also stipulates conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste.

Up to 8,900 metric tonnes of mercury are emitted every year, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It can be released naturally through the weathering of rocks containing mercury, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but human processes such as generating electricity in coal-burning power plants also emits mercury.

Artisanal small scale mining is responsible for up to 35 percent of global emission of mercury into the environment. Mining alone in 70 different countries exposes up to 15 million workers, including child laborers, to mercury poisoning.

Other human-made sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, paints and jewelry.

UNEP head Erik Solheim said, “The Minamata Convention shows that our global work to protect our planet and its people can continue to bring nations together. We did it for the ozone layer and now we’re doing it for mercury, just as we need to do it for climate change – a cause that the Minamata Convention will also serve.”

“Together, we can clean up our act,” said Solheim.

The Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history.

Between 1932 and 1968, the Chisso chemical factory in Minamata, Japan released large quantities of industrial wastewater into Minamata Bay that was contaminated with highly toxic methylmercury.

In 1956, local villagers suffered convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness, coma and death from eating the poisoned fish in Minamata Bay. Thousands of people were certified as having directly suffered from mercury poisoning.

Rimiko Yoshinaga was born in Myojin, Minamata City and grew up in a fishing family. At a memorial ceremony for Minamata disease victims on May 1, 2010, she told how she became ill and how her grandfather died from the disease.

“When this place was a sea,” she said, “we swam and gathered shells and seaweed. Both adults and children loved the sea so much. Meanwhile, fishes in Minamata Gulf started to swim unsteadily and shells opened their mouths, and the area was pervaded by a rancid smell. This was the beginning of a strange disease. In the end, cats, birds and also healthy people suffered a convulsion, groaned with pain, then died.”

“I remember that I went fishing with my grandfather on his fishing boat when I was 4 years old and Emiko, my cousin, had just turned 2 years old. My grandfather set up a little fire and baked the fishes to let us eat. I can imagine that we little girls ate happily thinking these fishes were fresh and tasted so good. No one could tell us they were contaminated fish.”

“The disease started to affect me. I often fell and got up again and again. Gradually I lost my strength and I could not walk at all,” she said.

“My mother carried me on her back to bring me to hospital many times. At the hospital, I got an injection on my back and it was very painful. After that, when I had to go to the hospital, I cried every time so my mother would not know what to do,” she said. “I felt uncomfortable to be called a person with ‘strange disease.'”

Yoshinaga entered elementary school late, because her father worried that she might be bullied by other students. She now works with disabled people.

“The national and prefectural government, not to mention Chisso, did not deal with the damages for so long,” said Yoshinaga. “They did not fulfill their responsibility and it remains tremendous challenge to restore.”

“I want them to listen to each citizen’s opinion so the governments and Chisso can both understand what people really need in this area. Minamata disease happened in such a small town where there are mountains, rivers, and sea where all creatures live,” she said. “Many precious things were taken away.”

There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage.

Unborn children and babies are the most vulnerable, along with populations who eat fish contaminated with mercury, those who use mercury at work, and people who live near a source of mercury pollution or in colder climates, where the toxic heavy metal tends to accumulate.

In addition, new research from the University of Geneva reveals that exposure to methylmercury is altering gene expression in algae. Mercury first found at very low amounts in water is concentrated along the entire food chain, from algae via zooplankton to small fish and on to the largest fish – the ones we eat.

By employing molecular biology tools, the scientists measured the way mercury affects the gene expression of algae, even when its concentration in water is very low, comparable to European environmental protection standards.

Working with an algae whose genome has been fully sequenced, they found that mercury disrupted the metabolism of this algae.

Lead researcher Professor Vera Slaveykova points out, “Of the 5,493 genes specifically dysregulated by methylmercury, we don’t yet know the function of 3,569 of them, even though this alga is the most widely studied of all.”

Another new study comparing mercury levels among young women in Asia and the Pacific revealed high traces of mercury in 96 percent of the women tested from Pacific communities with high fish consumption.

The study, “Mercury monitoring in women of childbearing age in the Asia and the Pacific Region,” jointly conducted by the interim secretariat of the Minamata Convention in Geneva, the Biodiversity Research Institute , and the global NGO International Positive Education Network (IPEN).

Researchers examined hair samples from women aged 18-44 from Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati, and two landlocked Asian countries, Tajikistan and Nepal.

The study found 96 percent of the women sampled from the Pacific Islands contained elevated hair mercury levels.

In contrast to the Pacific Islands, samples from Tajikistan, where fish consumption is very low, had the least amount of mercury overall. In Nepal, elevated mercury levels were found in women with a low fish diet, but who worked making gold-plated religious idols using mercury.

“This study underscores the importance of biomonitoring mercury pollution,” said David Evers, PhD, executive director and chief scientist at BRI and co-author of the study. “Although the subjects in this study represent small selected populations, the information gained contributes to overall global information on mercury concerns.”

“Mercury contamination is ubiquitous in marine and freshwater systems around the world. Biological mercury hotspots are globally common and are related to a variety of human activities,” said Evers. “For these reasons, it is critical that we continue biomonitoring efforts to track potential impacts on local communities and on the environment in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Minamata Convention.”

“Mercury has been recognized as a substance of global concern, with impacts on vulnerable populations,” said Jacob Duer, principal coordinator of the Minamata Convention’s Interim Secretariat. “Our results show why global action to prevent mercury releases through the Minamata Convention is so important.”

Regardless of U.S. ratification of the Minamata Convention in 2013 under President Barack Obama, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reconsidering a Obama-era EPA rule that set the first national limits to protect public health from mercury emissions.

Environmental and health organizations, concerned citizens and industry representatives from across the United States came to Washington, DC, July 31 to speak at an EPA public hearing on its proposal to indefinitely delay the requirements of the 2015 Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines.

The reconsideration is being carried out in response to the coal-fired power industry’s concerns.

In his testimony, Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. countered the utilities’ claims that making these investments would cause harm, comparing the harm to industry profits to the lasting developmental harm that mercury has on children.

Kennedy, an attorney specializing in environmental law, questioned the basis for EPA’s hearing, saying, “This hearing is illegal. I know the Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act backwards and forwards. Nothing in there gives you authority to suspend a rule. There has already been a rulemaking that gave us the limits that EPA is now trying to destroy.”

EPA is expected to finalize its decision on delaying the requirements of the ELG rule later in August.

The Waterkeeper Alliance says it is prepared to challenge EPA in court if the agency continues to roll back protections.

The first meeting of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury will be held September 24 to 29 in Geneva.

Maximpact+WASTEFeatured Image: There is no safe level of exposure to mercury, and young children are most at risk. Japan, 2007 (Photo by Jim Epler)

WHO: Air Pollution Kills Millions


Fine particles hang in the air over Shanghai, China, 2009 (Photo by Lei Han) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 27, 2016 ( News) – Three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, and indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths – 11.6 percent of all deaths worldwide – were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together, finds new research by the World Health Organization.

Nearly 90 percent of these air pollution deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, and nearly two out of three occur in WHO’s Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Regions.

Ninety-four percent of these deaths are due to noncommunicable diseases – cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

Today, the World Health Organization issued an air quality model confirming that 92 percent of the world’s people live in places where air pollution levels exceed WHO limits.

 In the most detailed air pollution health data, by country, ever reported by WHO, the study maps exposure to fine particle pollution, also called particulate matter or PM2.5, a mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air.

Interactive maps  show not only countries, but areas within countries where outdoor, or ambient, air pollution is higher that WHO’s Ambient Air Quality Guidelines for exposure to fine particulates.

The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for both coarse particulate (PM10) and fine particulate (PM2.5) values for about 3,000 cities and towns.

The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO.

Developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom, the model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations, both rural and urban.

Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” said Dr. Bustreo. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.

However, WHO reminds us, not all air pollution originates from human activity. Air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

The model has calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analyzed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km.

This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than six million deaths – one in nine of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates,” Dr. Neira explained.

Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” she urged. “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.

In September 2015, world leaders set a target within the Sustainable Development Goals of substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution by 2030.

 In May 2016, WHO approved a new roadmap for accelerated action on air pollution and its causes. The roadmap calls upon the health sector to increase monitoring of air pollution locally, assess the health impacts of exposure to polluted air and to assume a greater leadership role in national policies that affect air pollution.

This fall WHO is rolling out BreatheLife , a global communications campaign to increase public awareness of air pollution as a major health and climate risk.

BreatheLife is led by WHO in partnership with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate pollutants, hosted by the UN Environment Programme.

The campaign stresses two kinds of practical policies. Cities can implement policies such as: better housing, transport, waste and energy systems. As communities or individuals, people can take actions such as: ending waste burning, promoting green spaces and walking or cycling to improve air quality.

Featured Image: Campaigners from Friends of the Earth Scotland gather on Nicolson Street in Edinburgh to demand clean air after the zone failed to meet Scottish Air Quality Safety Standards, August 25, 2015. (Photo by Friends of the Earth Scotland) Creative Commons license via Flickr

EU Emissions Deal Founders on Flexibilities


Smog in Warsaw, Poland, November 4, 2015 (Photo by Radek Kołakowski) Creative Commons license via Flickr

by Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 19, 2016 ( News) – The European Commission and Parliament (EUROPA) are trying to enact ambitious targets to cut air pollution, but Europe’s largest federation of environmental groups warns that EU Member States have agreed on a weak directive that puts industry interests before people’s health.

On June 30, the EU Council and the European Parliament reached a first reading agreement on a new National Emissions Ceiling Directive (NEC) to reduce emissions of air pollutants.

The revision of the current National Emissions Ceiling Directive aims to slash the large number of premature deaths caused by air pollution across the European Union. Each year 400,000 premature deaths in the EU are linked to poor air quality, according to the European Environment Agency.

The new directive sets stricter national limits from 2020 to 2029 and from 2030 onwards.

The EU’s Environment Commissioner is in favor of the new law.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella of Malta, who has charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said, “I very much welcome the provisional agreement between the Council and European Parliament on the Commission’s proposal for a revision of the National Emissions Ceiling Directive – an important instrument to improve air quality and reduce cross-border pollution.

Air pollution is the number-one environmental cause of death in the EU, leading to over 400,000 premature deaths each year. The agreement reached today will cut those impacts by half over the coming years,” said Vella. “It will also deliver direct savings to the economy from fewer lost working days and lower health-care costs and stimulate investments in new technologies and green growth.

 “The negotiations were difficult and complex, but the institutions came together in a spirit of compromise,” the commissioner said. “With this agreement, the EU has acted decisively on an issue of crucial importance to our citizens.

But the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a federation of more than 150 groups in 30 countries, points out what it considers to be serious flaws in the directive.

The Commission included three flexibilities in the original proposal, to which the Council has added five more. Together, these flexibilities will delay action to tackle air pollution while making the Directive a complex, incomprehensible and unenforceable instrument,” the EEB says.

 The flexibilities are drafted in such a way that “compliance is likely to become the exception rather than the rule,” says the EEB, which says the law will not be effective in achieving the targeted air pollution reductions by 2025 and 2030.

The Commission proposed a flexibility that allows a change from the absolute emission ceilings in the 2001 NEC Directive to percentage reduction commitments based on 2005 emissions. EEB says this change increases uncertainty about the extent to which the targeted environmental objectives will actually be achieved.

 Another flexibility enables EU Member States to adjust their emissions inventories in cases where improved emission inventory methods would lead to non-compliance with a reduction commitment.

 A third flexibility proposed by the Commission provides that while in 2025, Member States should be on a linear trajectory towards the achievement of their 2030 Emission Reduction Credits (ERCs), this obligation does not apply to the extent that the necessary measures would entail “disproportionate costs.

Yet, no definition of “disproportionate costs” is provided, so Member States could ignore their 2025 commitments entirely if they think that the cost of any additional measures is disproportionate.

A clear and binding obligation for 2025 would be much more effective in ensuring timely emission reductions, providing clarity to the public and certainty to business,” declares the EEB.

The Council proposes to introduce further flexibility around the 2025 ERC. First, Member States would be under no obligation to achieve a linear trajectory by 2025; this would merely be an “indicative level.” Member States may set themselves a non-linear trajectory if this is economically or technically more efficient. Without any definition, the term “economically or technically more efficient” is practically meaningless, says the EEB. This amendment “essentially allows Member States to set their own ERC for 2025.

 Second, Member States are not even under a clear obligation to achieve this self-determined target, as their obligation is only to “endeavour” to limit their emissions by 2025 rather than the Commission’s wording of “take all appropriate measures (not entailing disproportionate cost)”. In the event that they breach their self-determined target, they need only explain the reasons for this to the Commission.

Taken together, these further flexibilities render the Commission’s already very weak obligations for 2025 almost worthless,” warns the EEB.


Air pollution near Amsterdam, The Netherlands, April 13, 2013 (Photo by Gisela Gerson Lohman-Braun) Creative Commons license via Flickr

 In addition, the Council proposes to allow Member States to calculate their emissions based on a three-year average in the event of a particularly cold winter or dry summer or unforeseen variations in economic activities.

But the EEB worries that dry summers and cold winters exacerbate air quality problems as they are dominated by high pressure weather systems and low wind speeds, which prevent dispersion of pollutants.

A three-year average would allow Member States to pollute more at the very time it is most important that they reduce pollution. Member States need to anticipate such weather conditions and include specific measures in their national programmes to deal with them,” the EEB says, among other objections.

The Council also proposes a new flexibility that would excuse breaches of an ERC for a maximum of five years where the Member State cannot comply after having implemented all cost-effective measures.

The EEB explains that whether measures are cost-effective or not has been a point of disagreement between Member States and the Commission throughout the course of negotiations. “Without an agreed common basis for determining whether measures are cost-effective, Member States will inevitably claim that they have taken all cost-effective measures. The Commission will have to take this information on trust. These ERCs will therefore be practically unenforceable.

 In addition to adding new flexibilities, the Council position weakens the actual level of ambition of ERCs by changing the percentages in Annex II, the environmental groups warn, saying, “ERCs have been weakened for the large majority of Member States and for all pollutants, with some drastically lowered ambition for PM2.5 and ammonia – by as much as 10 percentage points in some cases.

In his speech at the Environment Council’s debate on December 16, 2015, Commissioner Vella estimated that every percentage change from the 52 percent health improvement target proposed by the Commission would result in around 4,000 additional premature deaths in the year 2030.

The four percentage cut proposed by the Council is therefore estimated to cause around 16,000 additional premature deaths in the year 2030.

This combination of lower and more flexible targets is the worst outcome for human health and the environment,” the environmental federation warns. “The cumulative death toll for the 10-year period 2021-2030 will be far higher. We therefore call upon the three institutions to minimize the use of flexibilities in the directive.

Rio Summer Olympics ‘Embrace’ Sustainability


The Estádio do Maracanã is a 78,838 seat open-air stadium in the city of Rio owned by the Rio de Janeiro state government. South America’s largest stadium, it will be the venue for the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies on August 5 and closing ceremonies on August 21. (Photo by Luciano Silva) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil, July 14, 2016 ( News) – A new set of sustainability measures to support the greening of the Rio Summer Olympic Games were agreed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics Organizing Committee as far back as 2013.

Expressing its commitment to achieving sustainability, the “Embrace” Rio 2016 plan is based on three pillars: Planet, People and Prosperity, and has been established with the input of the federal, state and municipal governments.

The slogan “Embrace” Rio 2016 is being used in all Games communications related to the Sustainability Plan. The idea behind the name is to engage people, inviting them to be part of the transformation promoted by the event, which opens on Friday, August 5 and ends on Sunday, August 21.

A technical cooperation agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was signed at the launch of the sustainability program in August 2013. It expected to provide an evaluation plan and mediation around the subject of sustainability between Rio 2016 and the people of Brazil.

Denise Hamú, UNEP’s representative in Brazil, said, “Our goal is to integrate sustainability in all organizational processes, reducing the impact of the Games and setting an example of good practice for society as a whole. Together, sports and environment are powerful tools for sustainable development. For this reason, the UNEP has worked in partnership with the Olympic Movement over the last two decades.

Sustainability round tables originated during dialogue between the Organizing Committee and civil society groups in 2013. They began in 2014 and examined six topics in depth: urban mobility, climate change, sustainability education, protection of children and teenagers, diversity and inclusion, and transparency.

The Games will inevitably generate environmental impacts,” says the Organizing Committee. “We are talking about high consumption of water, energy, raw materials, food and so on. Rio 2016 undertakes to use all resources conscientiously and rationally, prioritizing certified, reusable and recyclable materials.”

 Discussions led to awareness, and the Organizing Committee has acted responsibly in many ways during planning and preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

  • 100 percent certified wood: Rio 2016 undertook to buy all the timber items required for the Games from sources with chain of custody certification. That means that the timber is logged sustainably and traceability is guaranteed from the time the timber leaves the forest through to the end user.
  • Sustainable headquarters: Rio 2016 has its headquarters in a temporary building. After the Olympics are over, it will be taken down, and 80 percent of the material will be reused in future structures. While in use, the building consumes 70 percent less energy than ordinary buildings. Timers on bathroom wash basins, intelligent flushes and a rainwater collection system enables the Organizing Committee to cut water consumption.
  • Material life-cycle analysis: The Organizing Committee has analyzed the life-cycles of 106 materials being used by the Games visual identity team to ensure conscientious and sustainable choices and minimize their environmental impact.

With the intention of delivering low-impact Games, the Organizing Committee has completed a study of the carbon footprint of the Rio Games and defined an emissions management strategy, based on impact measurement, cutting emissions, mitigation where possible and offsetting what cannot be mitigated.

To avert some of the consequences of energy use at the Games, Rio 2016 and Worldwide TOP Partner Dow announced the most comprehensive carbon dioxide (CO2) offset program in Olympic Games history. As the Official Carbon Partner of Rio 2016, Dow will mitigate 500,000 tons of CO2 equivalents through third party-verified emissions reductions somewhere else.

  • Technology-based carbon mitigation plan: This plan aims to mitigate 100 percent of the emissions generated by the Rio 2016 Games, which will amount to 500,000 tonnes of co2eq direct emissions from operation of the Games and 1.5 million tonnes of co2eq from spectators. Mitigation projects involve the agriculture, manufacturing and civil engineering sectors, and they will reap short, medium and long-term benefits.

One of Rio’s new state-of-the-art trams makes its way through the new-look waterfront district (Photo by Bruno Bartholini / Porto Maravilha) Posted for media use

Known as the VLT, Rio’s new light rail system started running in June. The high-tech trams have transformed public transport in the city center and given a futuristic look to the business district. The trams connect Santos Dumont domestic airport to the long-distance bus station, running through the waterfront district and stopping along the way at new museums and the busy cruise ship terminal. More than 200,000 people have already used the service.

Fleets of buses and trucks will be fueled by diesel containing 20 percent recycled cooking oil. Biodiesel emits less carbon and sulphur than petroleum diesel. It is estimated that 20,000 oil collectors will be involved, boosting the development of this production chain.

  • Logistics efficiency program: Logistics are a major factor in boosting the Games’ CO2 emissions. Rio 2016 is designing an intelligent route model to cut transportation time, fuel consumption and carbon emissions for the more than 30 million items to be brought in for the Games.

Allowing for public involvement has been an key part of the Organizing Committee’s work. Initial dialogue with civil society took place in 2013 and brought together 34 representatives of 24 organizations to assess the content of the Sustainability Management Plan. These meetings were held annually until this year. Organizers hope they will encourage a strong and effective post-Games transformation network.

  • Rio Alimentação Sustentável: Since 2013, Rio 2016 has been working in partnership with this voluntary organization focusing on healthy, sustainable foods. It is proposed that the Games act as a driving force to improve this sector in Brazil.

Rio 2016 has entered into partnerships with the Marine Stewardship Council and Aquaculture Stewardship Council so that suppliers can obtain sustainability certification for fish and seafood to be eaten during the Games.

For Rio 2016, one of the key points is waste management, since large volumes of waste will be generated daily during the Games. The great challenge is to minimize waste and raise awareness among spectators, athletes, volunteers about the best way to dispose of and recycle waste.

  • Rio 2016 headquarters waste management: The Organizing Committee has been operating without buying plastic cups, reducing the number of printers available and not providing individual waste bins.
  • Guide to sustainability for packaging: One of the critical points in the generation of waste is packaging. With this in mind, in April 2013, Rio 2016 published a guide to sustainable packaging, in which the committee laid down sustainability options and mandatory requirements for this category of items, including labeling, eco-design, accessibility of information and packaging materials.
  • Games waste management strategies: The strategy began during the preparatory phase and will end when the venues are dismantled. Recycling cooperatives will be involved, and the strategy is based on this sequence: waste generation avoidance → minimizing volume → managing inevitable waste → promoting behavioral change. The strategy also includes treatment of organic waste through composting, in order to reduce the amount that is sent to landfills.
  • Olympic Games Impact (OGI) study: In 2014, the Organizing Committee published its first OGI study, carried out by the Rio de Janeiro Federal University School of Engineering and containing an analysis of 22 environmental, 76 socio-cultural and 25 economic indicators. The first edition relates to the period 2007-2013. A further three reports are to be published, covering impacts up to 2019.

After successfully hosting 44 test events, the Rio 2016 team and the venues are ready for action, with all the facilities receiving their final Olympic touches before the athletes start to arrive. The velodrome and equestrian venues, which were being monitored closely by the organizers, are in the final stage of preparation, and will be ready for the Games.

Golf as an Olympic sport was added just this year, and Rio created a golf course in the previously degraded area of Marapendi, west of Rio to host the new sport. Before the start of work, about 80 percent of the golf course land was degraded by sand extraction, and by the manufacturing and storage of pre-cast concrete.

Over at the Olympic Golf Course, Rio 2016 Sustainability Coordinator Carina Flores says the fresh vegetation has led to “a positive spiral for the development of wildlife.”

 Records indicate the presence of 263 animal species in the region today, as compared with 118 mapped before construction.

 An inspection of the golf course was conducted in December 2015, after a public civil action was filed by state prosecutors who questioned the environmental impact of the golf course construction work. Prosecutors, legal advisors and technicians environmentalists were among the inspectors.

 The forensic report from Brazil’s Court of Justice concluded, “The environmental gain in the region with the construction of the golf course is visible. In addition to the flora, which increased extensively, we can observe the different animal species that have returned to the area.

Rio 2016 is ready to welcome the world,” said International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission Chair Nawal el Moutawakel.

The Olympians of 2016 can look forward to living in an outstanding Olympic Village and competing in absolutely stunning venues,” she said. “From views of the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain to the new state-of-the-art facilities in Barra or Deodoro and the iconic Maracanã Stadium and Copacabana Beach, I cannot imagine more spectacular backdrops for the world’s top sportsmen and women to showcase their talents to a watching world.

Dirtiest Air in World’s Poorest Cities


By Sunny Lewis                                                                                           Follow us at: @Maximpactdotcom

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 12, 2016 ( News) – The poorest cities on Earth have the worst air pollution, data revealed today by the World Health Organization shows.

More than 80 percent of the people living in cities that monitor pollutants in their air are exposed to levels up to 10 times higher than limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO), that UN-affiliated global health agency said today, releasing the latest figures.

The highest urban air pollution levels were found in low-and middle-income countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia regions, where annual mean levels often measured as much as 10 times WHO limits.

While all regions of the world are affected, residents of low-income cities are the most impacted.

WHO’s latest urban air quality data shows that 98 percent of cities in low-income and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines.

In high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 56 percent.

“Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it they have a benchmark,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant-director general, Family, Women and Children’s Health.

“When dirty air blankets our cities the most vulnerable urban populations – the youngest, oldest and poorest – are the most impacted,” Dr. Bustreo said.


At sunset, hazy air lingers over Dakar, Senegal, one the world’s 10 poorest cities. (Photo by Jeff Attaway) Creative Commons licence via Flickr

WHO researchers compared a total of 795 cities in 67 countries for levels of small and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) during the five-year period, 2008-2013.

PM10 and PM2.5 include pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon. They penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health.

In the past two years, the database – now covering 3,000 cities in 103 countries – has nearly doubled, with more cities measuring air pollution levels and recognizing the associated health impacts.

As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them.

Ambient air pollution, made of high concentrations of small and fine particulate matter, is the greatest environmental risk to health, say WHO executives. It causes more than three million premature deaths worldwide each year.

“Urban air pollution continues to  rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” says Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “At the same time, awareness is rising and more cities are monitoring their air quality. When air quality improves, global respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses decrease.”

 Most sources of urban outdoor air pollution are beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers to promote cleaner transport, more efficient energy production and waste management.

Yet it is possible for cities to clear the air. More than half of the monitored cities in high-income countries and more than one-third in low  and middle income countries reduced their air pollution levels by more than five percent in five years.

The successful cities reduced industrial smokestack emissions, increased their use of renewables, like solar and wind, and prioritized rapid transit, walking and cycling networks.

“It is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority,” says WHO’s Dr. Carlos Dora. “When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows. Reducing air pollution also brings an added climate bonus, which can become a part of countries’ commitments to the climate treaty.”

Analysis of the data reveals that during the 2008-2013 period:

  • Global urban air pollution levels increased by eight percent, although there were improvements in some regions.
  • Urban air pollution levels were lowest in high-income countries, with lower levels most prevalent in Europe, the Americas, and the Western Pacific Region.
  •  In the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions and low-income countries in the Western Pacific Region, levels of urban air pollution has increased by more than 5 percent in more than two-thirds of the cities.
  • In the African Region urban air pollution data remains very sparse, however available data revealed particulate matter (PM) levels above the median.

The world’s 10 poorest cities, by UN ranking, are the capitals of sub-Saharan African nations. They are lacking in the most rudimentary of supplies, and clean water, public transportation and overcrowding are major issues. While the UN categorizes these cities as being among the poorest in the world, they are still expanding rapidly.

During the World Health Assembly, May 24-30, Member States will try to map out a better global response to the health effects of air pollution.

 Main Image: An aerial view of Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, one the world’s 10 poorest cities. (Photo by Christopher Herwig / United Nations) Creative Commons licence via Flickr

Featured Image: 123rf stock photos