Scientific and Anecdotal Evidence of Rio's Guanabara Bay Pollution, Series 2 of 3

As reported before, US Sailing and the United States Olympic Committee have done testing of the waters of Guanabara Bay, but have sworn the results to secrecy.  What other scientific evidence is there?


Here’s the Guanabara Bay Water Test

  • A Brazilian friend (who reads Portuguese) was able to search the websites of Rio de Janeiro to see if any water testing results were online for Guanabara Bay.  He found Fecal bacteria test results intended for the local citizen swimmers to understand the bacteria levels from time to time.  Of course these results don’t include chemicals from farm run-off, heavy metals, acids or bases from industrial processing, hospital wastes, chemicals from the oil processing, or other pollutants from the raw wastes of 7,000,000 people.  We have looked for updated results, and it appears that the City of Rio de Janeiro has pulled this report from their website.

Swimming World 2/3/2015:

  • Swimming World’ Steve Selthoffer has been following this issue ever since Greenpeace released two reports from their research laboratory that confirms contamination in Guanabara Bay of PCBs, DDT, HCH, metallic contaminants, particularly copper, lead and zinc, present at significant concentrations, combined with evidence of riverine input of mercury and zinc.
  • Dock Areas for Sailing Have Most Pollution Some other metallic contaminants, particularly copper, lead and zinc, were also present at significant concentrations in the dock areas. Moreover, lead appears to be entering the bay in runoff from the city and there is evidence of riverine input of mercury and zinc. The mouth of the Rio Iguaçu exhibits elevations in chromium and nickel, which may be associated with petroleum refining.
  • Organochlorine pollution is evident at most of the sites sampled, with chlorinated benzenes, PCBs and pesticides or their derivatives accounting for almost all of the contamination. Again, the dock areas were among the most polluted, particularly with PCBs and chlorobenzenes. PCBs and organochlorine pesticides (DDT and HCH) may also be entering the bay via the rivers.”

News Every Day, 12/14/2014:

  • These super bacteria have been discovered by doctors from the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz……..First discovered in three out of five water samples that were collected in the Carioca River, this is the spot where the 2016 sailing and wind surfing venues are situated along the river, before it flows into the city’s Guanabara Bay……..Anyone who gets infected by the bug and the bacteria might become ill or carry the infection, according to the scientists. They might carry the bacteria to their own environments and others, beginning a “cycle of dissemination.”

Twin Cities 5/19/2014

  • “We’ve seen numbers from teams of the fecal content in the Guanabara Bay, which clearly are not safe,” Fox added. “For us, that’s a matter of concern. We’ve been assured again by the organizers that they are doing everything they can.” (Alastair Fox, head of competitions for the International Sailing Federation)



CNN, 4/16/2015:

  • WATCH THE VIDEO “Last week, newly obtained video from newspaper O Globo showed a sailor crashing into trash floating on Guanabara Bay” capsizing, the sailors falling into the sails damaging them.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) 3/20/2015:

  • Among the Great Britain sailors I spoke to was Charlotte Dobson and her partner, Sophie Ainsworth, who race in the 49er class.  “There’s a lot of debris in the water which is really bad for the racing because you get stuff caught around your boards,” says Dobson. “It can really slow you down and it’s really by chance, completely erratic.”

Chicago Tribune (AP) 3/3/2015:

  • Several Olympic-medal winning sailors have said it’s the dirtiest place they have ever competed.

Ottawa Citizen, 2/25/2015:

  • “Despite Mr. Pezao’s remarks and a report by the BBC about a British sailor who said he fell ill after his boat capsized in the bay two months ago……..”

British Broadcasting System (BBC) 2/5/2015

Rio Gringa 1/25/2015:

  • The same month (December 2014), Swiss sailors training in Rio for the Olympics reported falling ill after having contact with water in the bay, including fever and diarrhea.

Sailing Anarchy, 12/24/2014:

  • Ian Andrewes -Much (improvement) can be attributed to the odd garbage scows, roaming the water like giant aquatic Roombas and scooping up everything in their path, including the odd junior in an Opti.  It struck me as a wonderful improvement, but then I started to notice the water color – not the brown of the typical estuarine bay, but the thick, particle-choked haze of the untreated sewage flowing directly into our racing area.  I do believe this place is seriously sick. The waters are not just dirty; they are toxic and poisonous. Every day thousands of dead fish have been washing up on the beaches.

Washington Post, 12/17/2014:

  • But there’s apparently a new challenge in Rio’s Guanabara Bay and Carioca River, where some athletes will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics — super bacteria. And yep, it’s the kind that can kill you.

Chris Barnard Sailing, 8/11/2014:

  • “I began to feel very nauseous towards the end of the race.  I tried to refuel and rehydrate between races to try and shake off the bugs.  However in the final race of the day, the stomach cramps got progressively worse. “

The Courier Mail / The Daily Telegraph 8/8/2014:

  • MULTIPLE world champion sailor Darren Bundock and crewmate Nina Curtis have been up way too close and  personal with rubbish-strewn  waters at  Rio’s Olympic  test event, with the pair tipped into the murk after hitting  an unidentified submerged object.
  • Later, the rudder on the Nacra 17 popped up, believed to have hit another object, and Bundock and Curtis spun out of control again. They capsized and finished 15th.
  • London Olympic champion Nathan Outteridge, photographed sailing past a dead dog in the regatta lead-up.
  • Bundock, a two-time Olympic medallist, said he had originally thought reports of the stinking pollution in Guanabara Bay, which has been ­described as a ‘‘huge sewer”, were media hype — before  colliding with a submerged object and dodging mounds of ­rubbish during  races.
  • Sailors, including Outteridge and 470 skipper Mat Belcher, have reported seeing dead dogs floating past. Others have reported cars, rats, furniture and even part of a wall floating past, plus  a nasty stench.

Latin Post, 8/5/2014:

  • Alain Sign, a British sailor, described the bay as “a bit darker than usual,” with smells reminiscent of a “toiler” or “open sewer.”  “Around the edges is the worst where it all collects,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to go paddle boarding and capsize.”

Business Insider 8/5/2014:

  • Mat Belcher, a 2012 gold medalist, told the Brazilian paper Folha de São Paulo (via AFP), “We found a lot of plastic bottles and bags. Yesterday we saw a dead dog in the water. If the Olympics were tomorrow, we would really have a problem.”

The National, 8/4/2014:

  • Lars Grael, an Olympic bronze medallist, later said he had encountered far worse.  “In Guanabara Bay, I’ve come across corpses four times,” he told Brazilian website EsporteEssencial in June.

The Daily Telegraph. 8/3/2014:

  • Australian coach Victor Kovalenko yesterday told The Daily Telegraph a fellow coach has already fallen ill while he is sporting a rash he believes is from being splashed by the polluted water in Guanabara Bay.

Inside the Games, 8/3/2014:

  • 49erFX class world champions Alex Maloney and Molly Meech of New Zealand, who said they had their fingers crossed they will avoid illness when they compete.

Street & Smith’s Sports Business Global 7/31/2014:

  • An Austrian boat “was damaged by garbage as it practiced for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay,” where a member of the sailing team said that “he saw a dead dog floating in the water,” according to Tariq Panja of BLOOMBERG. Nico Delle Karth, a 49er-class sailor who is training for his fourth Olympics with partner Nikolaus Resch, said, “We saw a dead dog and destroyed our center board because of some strange plastic piece we hit.”

7/30/2014 Around the Rings:

  • Members of the Austrian sailing team said a boat was damaged by garbage at the Aquece Rio test event.

The Portland Herald, 7/28/14:

  • The other problem is less visible: untreated human waste, which can’t be retrieved and leaves a stench all around the bay.
  • “At low tide, it smells like sewage water. It smells like a toilet,” said Austrian sailor Nikolaus Resch, who finished fourth at the London Olympics in the 49er class with teammate Nico Delle Karth. “You see people going for a swim. I would never – under free will – go in the water here.”
  • At a small regatta last year, sailors were seen using alcohol to clean their hands after leaving the brown-black water, often capped with green foam.

The Independent, 5/20/2014:

  • Rio 2016 Olympics: Sailors warned over sewage-infested waters, dog carcasses and even ‘human corpses’ in Guanabara Bay

NBC, 5/19/2014:

  • “I would say I’ve sailed in worse waters before, for sure,” said American Chris Barnard, who has sailed internationally for six years and competed in Guanabara Bay in January. “I would say that venue, it’s not the worst, but it could use some cleaning.”  Barnard said he’s never taken preventative medication due to water quality issues before.
  • Another U.S. sailor, 2012 Olympian Paige Railey, said Rio de Janeiro is her favorite sailing venue in the world out of her 12 years of international experience. She last visited for training in September, where she said she didn’t find any of the reported overt problems at the portions of the bay she sailed in.  “We went swimming in the water,” she said. “I flipped over [in my boat]. I’ve been in the water, have had it splashing in my face. None of us had any issues.”

The New York Times, 5/18/2014:

  • “Welcome to the dump that is Rio,” Germany’s sailing team said
  • “It can get really disgusting, with dog carcasses in some places and the water turning brown from sewage contamination,” said Thomas Low-Beer, 24, a Brazilian Olympic hopeful who sails in the bay.  He shuddered when recalling how his dinghy crashed into what he believed was a partly submerged sofa, capsizing him into the murky Guanabara.
  • Calling the bay “dark, brown and stinking,” Lars Grael, 50, a Brazilian sailing legend who won two Olympic medals, said he had encountered human corpses on four occasions while sailing in the bay.
  • Nico Delle Karth, an Austrian sailor preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics, said it was the foulest place he had ever trained.  The water reeked so badly of sewage that he was afraid to put his feet in it to launch his boat from shore.  “I’ve never seen anything like this before,”

The Atlantic, 4/18/2014:

  • The Irish sailing team’s performance director James O’Callaghan said sewage was visible in the Guanabara Bay water during his visit last year, and, “As a result we have asked that a doctor come out with us when we travel back later this year … It is a concern for us. Even if the boats don’t capsize you are getting spray because of your speed across the water. If you have a cut we want to know what the chances are of infection,” he told the Irish Times.

Sailing Anarchy, 3/20/2014:

  • “Last December Alan Norregaard, ……..was just barely edging out Nico Delle Karth for first place as he approached the windward mark in the 2nd race of the 2013 Intergalactic Championships in Guanabara Bay………….And then disaster struck when his 49er shuddered to a halt. He and his crew watched helplessly as the entire fleet passed by…………they peered into the murky water to see what had happened and what they saw was both infuriating and outrageous: their 49er was stopped dead in the water by a large plastic bag wrapped around their centerboard, floating haphazardly in the bay.”

Around the Rings, 1/29/2014:

  • “Baulic trained for two weeks in the Bay earlier this year, and said he became sick for a few days during his training. One possible culprit is the Bay’s water.  Baluic said he understands others sailors have had similar symptoms after sailing in Rio.”

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1/10/2014:

  • “I was ill just before Christmas. It could have been from the capsize that we had, or from something I ate,” says British sailor Alain Sign at Niteroi’s Sao Francisco Beach.

The Star, 12/7/2013:

  • Brazilian Robert Scheidt, who has won five Olympic medals, said in a telephone interview with AP. “I have never swum in there (Guanabara). Inside the bay I know it’s not the proper place to swim.”
  • “I’ve been sailing all over the world for 20 years now, and this is the most polluted place I’ve ever been,” said Allan Norregaard, a Danish bronze medallist in the 2012 London Olympics. “It’s really a shame because it’s a beautiful area and city, but the water is so polluted, so dirty and full of garbage.”
  • Norregaard said that while sailing the last few days, he’d seen entire trees floating in the bay, doors, chunks of timber with nails protruding, swollen mattresses and endless plastic bags.
  • “I would definitely not swim in it,” (Allan) Norregaard said. “We have had a couple of incidents where people went in the water and came up with red dots on their body. I don’t know what’s in the water, but it’s definitely not healthy.”
  • Another sailor talked about a horse carcass in the 383-square kilometre bay, which opens into the Atlantic just above Rio’s famed Copacabana beach.


Rio Gringa 1/25/2015:

  • Rio de Janeiro and other nearby cities dump nearly 70 percent of their untreated sewage into the water. In May, Carlos Francisco Portinho, Rio de Janeiro’s state environment secretary, wrote a letter to Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo saying that it will take more than a decade to lower the bay’s pollution to a respectable level.
  • The Rio bay where the Brazil Olympics’ sailing competitions will be held won’t be clean for the games in 2016, the city’s mayor has said.
  • According to the Deputy State Secretary of Environment just 34 percent of Rio’s sewage is treated while the remainder flows untreated into the waters.

The Independent, 6/8/2014:

  • The Rio bay where the Brazil Olympics’ sailing competitions will be held won’t be clean for the games in 2016, the city’s mayor has said.

New York Times, 5/18/2014

  • Mr. Ricci Bitti (president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations) and other Olympic officials have publicly asserted that there is no Plan B, that the Games will not be moved from Rio.

Huffington Post, 5/18/2014:

  • “Brazil will not make good on its commitment to clean up Rio de Janeiro’s sewage-filled Guanabara Bay by the 2016 Olympic Games”

Skift, 2014, undated:

  • In a May 7 letter to sports minister Aldo Rebelo, Rio’s state environment secretary, Carlos Francisco Portinho, acknowledged in a best-case scenario that pollution flowing into the bay could be cut to “over 50 percent” — well below the promised reduction of 80 percent.  Asked (Rio de Janieiro Mayor Eduardo Paes) if the government would be morally or legally responsible for any athletes who became ill, he replied: “Sure, I think it’s our responsibility. Yes.”

Daily Mail, 1/22/2014:

  • According to the Deputy State Secretary of Environment, just 34 per cent of Rio’s sewage is treated while the remainder flows untreated into the waters.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1/10/2014:

  • According to Rio’s Deputy State Secretary of Environment Gelson Serva, only 34% of Rio’s sewage is treated – the rest is spilled raw into the waters.
  • The water quality in the state’s beaches is assessed weekly by Rio’s Environment Institute (Inea), and most of those across the 148-square mile bay are repeatedly considered unsuitable for swimming.


NBC, 5/19/2014:

  • “We’re well aware of the concerns of water quality in Guanabara Bay,” U.S. Olympic Sailing managing director Josh Adams said. “We’re taking the steps necessary so that the athletes are prepared.”


Yahoo Sports Canada (AP) 4/24/2015:

  • The world governing body of sailing threated Friday to move all of its events for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics out of the city’s Guanabara Bay if action isn’t taken quickly to clean the heavily polluted body of water that many sailors have described as an “open sewer.”  Alastair Fox, the head of competitions for the governing body ISAF, said sailing officials had become “frustrated with it all” after seeing little done to clean the bay of raw sewage and floating debris.

Latin Post 8/5/2014:

  • “The sailors and boats do not want to be in a field of play where there is any type of objects,” Alastair Fox, head of competitions at the International Sailing Federation, told BBC, adding that competing sailors have run into sofas, a door and a dead dog recently.

Environmental Expert, 11/24/2013:

  • ‘We’re for sure concerned about it, and we’re in discussion with the organizing committee about it,’ said Jerome Pels, chief executive officer of sailing’s world governing body. ‘We know with reports we are getting from sailors who are training there – just from the visual view of the water – that already there are some concerns. … It’s on our radar.’


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