RIO DE JANEIRO – Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes … “Ew, what’s that smell?”
At Ipanema beach in January, the organization Meu Rio staged a protest in an attempt to make it known that thousands of gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the ocean off Rio’s coast each day.
“For three months we held protests every weekend to turn an invisible problem into a visible one,” Leona Deckelbaum, the campaign coordinator with Meu Rio, said in a recent interview. Only about 34 percent of Rio’s sewage is treated, and the rest simply washes into the azure waters, giving new meaning to the nautical term poop deck.
Guanabara Bay, the site of several 2016 Olympic sailing events, has 78 times Brazil’s legally allowed limit of fecal pollution, and 195 times the U.S. limit. In addition to human waste, the bay is also a receptacle for trash from ships and the bay’s 15 adjacent communities, as well as toxic runoff from a former landfill. And its not just Guanabara–the ritzy Leblon and Ipanema beach areas are plagued with similar pollution problems. The state environmental agency, INEA, found that Leblon and Ipanema were unfit for swimming for 40 percent of 2011. Botafogo Beach had so much fecal pollution that it did not pass a single INEA test in 2013, according to the BBC.
"In the waters just off Copacabana beach, the measurement of fecal coliform bacteria spiked to 16 times the Brazilian government’s satisfactory level as recently as three weeks ago, bad news for the marathon swimmers and triathletes set to compete there," the AP noted in November.
Olympic teams are getting grossed out and nervous.
Read more. [Image: Felipe Dana/AP]
Everyone “knows” that China is badly polluted. I’ve written over the years, and still believe, that environmental sustainability in all forms is China’s biggest emergency, in every sense: for its people, for its government, for its effect on the world. And yes, I understand that the same is true for modern industrialized life in general. But China is an extreme case, and an extremely important one because of its scale.
This Sunday marks the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill. Daniel Beltrá, one of the first photographers on the scene, has given his blessing to run some of his Gulf photos.
It’s a rare “blue sky” day in Beijing. The city is bathed in a beautiful late-afternoon light—the kind that makes people rush outside just to enjoy it. But rather than bask in the weather, a small group of expats and Chinese locals have instead chosen to hole themselves up in a café.
With screwdrivers in hand, the group hacks away at cheap blue plastic fans. A moment later, they strap onto the fans’ standard issue HEPA filters, gauze-like panels that are as white as bridal veils. In less than five minutes—and for less than $30—they’ve managed to construct an air purifier that the instructor of this DIY workshop claims is just as effective as professional models selling for thousands of dollars.
One of the workshop’s participants, a 27-year old PHD student named Gu Yaobao, is particularly pleased with his new machine. “I don’t understand why the professional purifiers have to be so expensive,” he says. “I’ve only seen them being sold in the last few years. Before, I had no idea about the effects of pollution on my body. Now I hear about it on the news, all these respiratory diseases it can cause, so I’ve bought plants, facemasks, everything.”
The Chinese government recently announced that it will invest $275 billion—an amount equivalent to Hong Kong’s GDP—over the next five years to combat air pollution. But many in China aren’t prepared to wait, and are taking matters into their own hands.
Read more. [Image: Kim Kyung-Moon/Reuters]
What to do, when you’re afraid to breathe the air.
How bad is it? The U.S. considers air with miniscule particles above 100 micrograms per cubic meter as “unsafe.” This weekend, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing logged concentrations almost as high as 900 micrograms. As many as 33 cities had “hazardous” air during the weekend, according to Chinese media, leading to crushes of people seeking medical help for breathing problems and a booming market for face masks.
Chinese officials’ response to the air-pollution crisis has been quick and decisive. Stay indoors! they say. Dozens of construction sites have shut down to help diminish the foul cloud. So far, the situation has not approached the direness of the weather-related smogmageddon of October 2010. An ocean of cottony air reduced visibility to as little as 330 feet in places, leading to a rash of traffic accidents that wound up killing at least 32 people.
Read more. [Images: Jason Lee, Reuters]
The People’s Republic of China, the most populous country, and the second-largest economy, in the world, is a vast, dynamic nation that continues to grow and evolve. In this, the latest entry in a semi-regular series on China, we find a tremendous variety of images, including a military theme park, a rocket launch, a seriously massive shoe, a Pac Man soap-box racer, and a man who invented his own prosthetic arms. This collection offers only a small view of people and places across the country over the past several weeks.
See more. [Images: AP, Reuters]
Six years ago, Eron King, an artist and young mother, moved from the edge of Eugene to a creekside plot of forest valley so her two boys could grow up raising hens and Toggenburg goats. She wasn’t naïve about rural life in Oregon, where she’d lived for nine years. The state’s western third is timber country, and the tractor-trailer rigs hauling logs were no shock to her.
But like many residents of the region, King was unaware that major timber companies — Weyerhaeuser, Roseburg Resources, Stimson Lumber, Seneca Jones, and others — have been spraying millions of pounds of herbicide on their private forestland. Some of it, she believes, is carried by the winds and lands on her property.
Last year, King and her two children, along with their father and 37 other residents, submitted their urine for laboratory testing. The results were startling: Every person tested positive for the compound 2,4-D — made famous as an ingredient of Agent Orange — and for the chemical atrazine.
Read more. [Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]
When a ranking Chinese government official slammed the U.S. embassy and consulates in China earlier this month for measuring local air pollution data, calling it “violating diplomatic conventions,” Chinese web users snapped back. “Can’t you see the bad pollution yourself?” asked one typical comment.
China’s censors have tremendous power in print, online, and even in public spaces such as Tiananmen Square. But when it comes to air pollution, even the Chinese government can’t obscure the facts. People see and breathe it every day.