Rio's Guanabara Bay Clean Up Efforts

The case is made for moving the sailing portion of the 2016 Olympics out of Guanabara Bay in Brazil to a clean water venue.  One might think that Rio does nothing about their heavily polluted bay, but that wouldn’t be true.  So what is going on in the bay?

Following are many reports that makes it clear that the government promises the moon at the beginning of most of these projects, and falls very short on completion.  There is a strong pattern.

First a little background – Rio’s Guanabara Bay is filled with raw human waste (kitchen, bath, toilet, laundry, etc.), farm runoff, oil industry hydrocarbons,  industrial wastes (acids, bases, heavy metals, oils, greases, etc.) and trash floating on the water (plastics, chairs, tables, TVs, couches, etc.) and your occasional dead dog, cat, cow, horse or human corpse.

The answer why this is is simple.  It takes money to treat water, it takes political will to spend the public’s money on clean up, it takes installing sewers to every home and commercial building all connected to an operating sewage treatment plant.  Reportedly, many buildings don’t have sewers in their streets or connections.

So, what has Rio done to try to clean up Guanabara Bay?

First, the reader should have background knowledge on the three stages of sewage treatment:

  1. A simple 1″ X 1″ mesh screens out trash and solid materials, many times the solids are sold of as fertilizer.
  2. The remaining solution is put into a settling tank, the solids fall to the bottom of the tank, the oils and greases float to the top.  These solids and floating materials are removed.
  3. The final stage is either micro filtration, or bacteria that eats the remaining suspended solids.

In 1992, $700 million was spent to build five sewage treatment plants around Guanabara Bay.  It came out of the United Nations ECO-92  conference held in Rio.  One of those has not yet treated any water.  The other four run below capacity with many reasons why, one major piece being that sewage lines have not been installed to homes.  AP 11/20/13 Story by Jenny Barchfield  There’s also suggestions in other articles that money was diverted through corruption.


This huge garbage dump has been credited with having some of its trash end up in Guanabara Bay as well as runoff from the mountain of rotting trash.  Trash now diverted to modern sorting facility.  AP 6/3/2012 Story by Victor R. Caivano.

The National, on 8/4/2014, reported on information provided by the Rio state government, when rubbish sites in 15 cities surrounding Guanabara Bay were closed in 2012, it “prevented the discharge of one Maracana Football Stadium of slurry per week into the waters of the bay”.


Due to the floating trash which competing sailboats could run into causing a boat to slow down, have to maneuver around the object, capsize, damage their boat or injure their crew causing a race to be found to be an unfair competition.  This issue seems to be the focus of the Rio Organizing Committee and the International Sailing Federation, there seems to be no interest anymore in the contaminents in the water.   Rio’s solution was to build ten “Eco Boats.”  These are the equivalent of floating harvesting tractors that can remove 45 tons of trash from the water surface monthly.  Rio dumps 80 to 100 tons of trash monthly into the Bay.  When in operation during a 2014 Test Event, sailors reported a marked improvement having less trash on the water’s surface.

According to The National, 8/4/2014,  The government is acting on the bay and we still have plenty of time to have it ready for the Olympic Games.” Out on the racing courses, the water appears slightly discoloured in areas but largely rubbish-free courtesy of 11 containment belts and 10 eco-boats that together manage about 45 tons of rubbish each year.

However a 3/3/2015 AP report on Fox News stated that the government funding to pay the workers to operate these boats ended.  Because the government owes back pay, and these Eco Boats are currently idled.

On March 11, 2015, the Prince George Citizen reported that it was announced that a Dutch firm (unnamed) will use cameras and computer simulations to predict how to clean the surface of the water of trash.  There have been no updates. 

On April 1, 2015 ABC News, the Instituto Rumo Nautico rejected an offer from the City of Rio to take over the Eco Boats to keep the race course area free of debris.


5/17/2014, AP Jenny Barchfield These appear to be Stage 1 treatment only of putting nets at the end of rivers flowing into Guanabara Bay.   “With little progress made.”

1/27/2015 USA Today (AP) With 18 months until the Olympics starts, only 2 River Treatment Units have been built of 8 planned.


In 2009, 20% of the sewage water was treated.  In April 2015, 39% is treated.  Rio promised the International Olympic Committee that it would be 80% treated by the opening ceremonies in 2016.  At the current time, Rio has backtracked believes the best they will do is close to 50% clean.  And “clean” as far as I can tell looks to be Stage 1 treatment for all of the improvement.

If the 80% treatment were to occur, it still would leave 49,680,000 gallons per day being dumped into the bay from the 15 cities and eight million residents.  And this was to be a good thing for the sailing competitions?


Brazil Business – These are floating nets made of recycled plastic bottles and plastic containers to screen garbage from flowing into rivers.  Big items, couches and refrigerators go right through them.

This government idea is to stop the taking of expanding land by the cities poor by erecting eight miles of concrete walls around these regions.   Many of these homes have no sewers or trash pick up and the sewage and trash is dumped into the rivers that feed into Guanabara Bay.

3/4/15 Rio Gringa, “The city’s supermarket association was sponsoring the eco-barrier efforts, but it pulled the funding. As a result, of the 14 eco-barrier structures operating in 2012, there are only 7 left. In 2012, the barriers were capturing up to 900 tons of trash a month; now, it’s only 150 tons per month.
4/3/12 Rio Times  It reports that R$0.8 billion will come from the Inter-American Development Bank and R$330 million from theRio state government. “The program aims to up sewage treatment rates from 6,000 liters of sewage per second currently, to 16,000 liters per second by 2016 – all of which would otherwise be running into the bay untreated.”
10/24/2013 Prezi reports that  PSAM is hoping to get $1.1 billion in investments.
An underwater untreated sewage sewer pipe that discharges underwater right in the area of the marina and bay sailing courses, was to be extended about a kilometer out into the ocean and discharged there moving the problem of sewage away from the race course area and out into the open ocean currents to carry it away.
Reuters – In late 2013, “its construction was delayed by the collapse of Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista’s EBX Group, which had promised to pay for half the project.”

Stuff, 8/15/2014 – “But Muricy promises to eliminate that threat. An interceptor sewer should be completed by September 2015 to channel sewage away from the Marina and the bay.”

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