Rio’s Major Pollution Problem In 31 Shocking Photos

Published August 3, 2016
Updated May 18, 2018

“ATHLETES WILL BE LITERALLY SWIMMING IN HUMAN CRAP,” local pediatrician Dr. Daniel Becker just told The New York Times, referring to the Olympians who will soon be competing in Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously polluted Guanabara Bay.

Doll Eyes Trash

Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesTrash floats in Rio De Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay.

Nearly seven years ago, when the Brazilian port city first won its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the world wondered whether Rio’s infamous pollution problem would be taken care of by the Games’ start. Sadly, with opening ceremony just days away, we now have our answer.

Although Brazil pledged back in 2009 to make a $4 billion effort to eradicate 80 percent of the 8,200 liters of sewage that reach Guanabara Bay every second (that’s about 50 bath tubs’ worth), only $170 million has been spent — and it shows:

Polluted Banks
Dead Fish Mountains
Boy Canal
Dog Skull
Rio’s Major Pollution Problem In 31 Shocking Photos
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What's truly scary, however, is what you can't see in the photos. The waters of Guanabara Bay are filled with vomit-inducing rotaviruses as well as literally deadly superbacteria.

All in all, as an infamous test conducted by the Associated Press last year discovered, the bay contains virus levels 1.7 million times higher than what would be considered hazardous in the waters of, say, California.

“We just have to keep our mouths closed when the water sprays up,” Afrodite Zegers, a member of the Dutch sailing team, told the New York Times.

With little else to be done at this point, some Olympians, including some members of the sailing teams from both Spain and Austria, have already come down with gastrointestinal illnesses.

And it doesn't look like the efforts that have been made will do much to change that. As longtime municipal engineer Stelberto Soares illustrated to the New York Times, “They can try to block big items like sofas and dead bodies, but these rivers are pure sludge, so the bacteria and viruses are going to just pass through."


Next, step inside the most polluted city in the world and see just how bad the pollution in China has become.

author
John Kuroski
author
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
editor
Savannah Cox
editor
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kuroski, John. "Rio’s Major Pollution Problem In 31 Shocking Photos." AllThatsInteresting.com, August 3, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/rio-olympics-pollution. Accessed May 18, 2024.