Olympic Sailors Face Polluted Bay in Brazil

Rio officials say they will not reduce pollution

Jan 28, 2015
Outside Magazine
guanabara bay rio de janeiro olympics

Among the contents of Guanabara Bay: raw sewage, human waste, refrigerators, and animal carcasses.    Gabriel Melo/Flickr

Rio de Janeiro’s new state environmental secretary, Andre Correa, told the Guardian on Wednesday that city officials will not uphold their pledge to clean the highly polluted waters in which athletes will be sailing and windsurfing in time for the Olympics.

The city’s Olympic bid, as well as the hopes of local environmental activists, hinged on the promise to reduce pollution in Guanabara Bay by 80 percent. With the games approaching, city officials have admitted that this will not be possible.

“Removing 80 percent of the pollutants? It’s not going to happen,” Correa, who took office earlier this year, told the Guardian. He added that it would cost billions of dollars to handle the task, and that the resources simply don’t exist.

Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailing is set to take place, is notoriously polluted with raw sewage, industrial debris, and things like old couches and animal carcasses, reports SF Gate. Competing there has been an ongoing issue for nearly a year and a point of contention among athletes who fear superbacteria.

Rio 2016 organizing committee spokesperson Mario Andrade said the claim to reduce pollution by 80 percent meant increasing filtration and sewage treatment, not reducing preexisting pollution. Since 2007, when Rio launched its bid, sewage treatment has increased from 11 percent to 50 percent, Andrade said.

“As far as the Guanabara Bay is concerned, what I wanted to say here today is that everything’s on track, everything’s progressing,” Andrade told SF Gate. “There is no plan B. … There will not be any televisions floating in the sailing events.”

Correa said that a pair of eco-barriers planned to be built in river mouths would ultimately filter out 80 percent to 85 percent of pollution entering the bay, SF Gate reports.

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