Rio turns to Dutch experts to confront Olympic pollution

AP News
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Posted: Mar 11, 2015 3:56 PM
Rio turns to Dutch experts to confront Olympic pollution

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro's government has turned to a high-technology Dutch institute to help it try to better collect floating garbage in Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue for the 2016 Olympic Games, as officials face severe criticism over the polluted waters.

While officials hope the effort will help them avoid embarrassing incidents during the games, like boats crashing into floating debris, it does not combat the more pressing problem of extreme sewage pollution in the waters.

The Dutch researchers created a system that compiles weather and water-condition data and possibly real-time footage from cameras to forecast where litter accumulates and travels within the bay. It was developed by a Deltares, a water research foundation based in Delft that is funded by the Dutch government.

Joao Rego, the project leader, said that the computer simulations provide an overview to make the job of collecting waste more cost-effective and easier.

"We provide information that can be used, hopefully in an optimal way, and then it's up to the local authorities to implement mitigation measures," Rego said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Drastically cutting the flow of pollutants was promised as a lasting legacy in the city's Olympic bid. But critics say that despite the Olympic exposure, the government may miss the opportunity to depollute the 146-square-mile (378-square-kilometer) bay because it's not fighting the root cause: the city's troubled sewage system.

Meanwhile, retrieving floating trash so athletes don't bump into it is a priority.

Earlier this month, Antonio da Hora, a deputy environmental secretary, said there was no good information that could be used to guide the garbage collection boats that work the bay.

The Dutch government signed an agreement with the Rio de Janeiro state government to put in place the system that maps solid waste. Other Dutch companies visited Rio this week on a fact-finding mission sponsored by their government to alleviate the problem.

Rego said the forecasting system will be as good as Brazil wants it to be, depending on how much additional data and footage researchers can obtain from the 15 different municipalities that hug the bay. The institute hopes to enhance the system with it in the coming weeks to track where trash is accumulating on a real-time basis.

"There's a lot of good information on what kinds of trash comes from each river," Rego said. "It's software we hope that will have an impact in the decision-making because we are modeling reality, and it's more obvious if it's in your screen every day."

Environmentalists aren't optimistic the technology will help the overall pollution problems.

"We need to do something to stop the waste from being dumped by the people into the rivers," said biologist Mario Moscatelli, an outspoken critic of the government's effort to clean up Rio's waters. "There's no question. It's not about money, it's not about technology. It's about political will."

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Associated Press writers Stephen Wade and Brad Brooks contributed to this report