Fetid sewage, floating garbage and worries about water safety are lingering issues ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault took to the skies to see the scale of the sewage problems in the Brazilian city.

From a helicopter, Arsenault and local biologist Mario Moscatelli surveyed the waters that will serve as a venue for some competitions. Long lines of sewage flowed from streams and rivers into bays and lagoons.

“This is a shame!” Moscatelli says as the helicopter passes over an area with visible sewage near the Olympic Park.

Rio officials had pledged to clean up the pollution and build eight sewage treatment plants before the Games, but just one plant was constructed, Arsenault reports.

“Booms collect garbage that threatens to get in the way of athletes, and that should help them,” Arsenault says. “But what about a long-term shift for those who live here?”

Moscatelli, who has been tracking the sewage situation in Rio for 20 years, says officials “said one thing and they did another thing.”

“We have money, we have technology, but we don’t have interest,” says Moscatelli, who has been active in the campaign to clean up the waterways.

On Monday, The Associated Press published the results of a 16-month study it commissioned that showed the waterways in the city were contaminated with raw sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria.

Watch the video above to learn more about the challenges in Rio and to get a view from above of the city’s water pollution.

Rio water problems

A water quality survey of the aquatic Olympic and Paralympic venues commissioned by The Associated Press ‘has revealed consistent and dangerously high levels of viruses from the pollution.’ (CBC)

Rio water

Athletes, including some sailors, have been taking precautions ahead of the Games. Dannie Boyd, a Canadian sailor, says ‘water quality is definitely a struggle’ in Rio.


The bid document submitted by Rio in 2009 says the games would ‘regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways.’ The city has long struggled to clean up pollution in the area’s water. (CBC)

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