In the Shadow of Olympic Games, Meet the People Living With Rio's Contaminated Water

How Rio residents survive living with contaminated water.

August 19, 2016, 4:37 AM

— -- Alexandre Anderson accelerates his boat past a waterfall of sewage.

The third-generation fisherman used to make his livelihood in this bay in Rio de Janeiro, where several Olympic watersports were held this week.

“We are invisibles,” Anderson says. “I swam in these waters, my father swam in these waters, my grandparents swam in these waters...this is my house, they are killing my house.”

Sewage and garbage has flooded the bay with bacteria and viruses, contaminating fish with oil and heavy metals.

When Rio announced it would host the Olympics, Brazil promised that the local economy – and the health of local residents – would improve. The government said 80 percent of sewage would be treated.

“There was an economic point to bringing the Olympics here,” Anderson says. “But we knew this issue… we knew the Olympics would happen in the dirty water full of crap and bacteria, and after that we will be abandoned.”

ABC News found that one water sample in Guanabara Bay, where Olympic swimmers competed, had fecal bacteria at levels 40 times higher than what would be considered “contaminated” in some U.S. states. This is consistent with testing performed by other groups.

Anderson says people have been dying from Rio’s tainted waters for a long time. “We say there are powerful bacteria, something the media doesn’t know, but people are dying from dysentery, maybe without even knowing what they had,” he says.

Anderson says his reward for bringing attention to Rio’s public healthrisks has been death threats from local mobsters.

Even though the situation is dire, Anderson remains optimistic.

“While there is one fishermen, while there is one of my sons swimming in this water, my grandson, there will be a chance to recover it,” he says. “I have hope. I have hope. The bay is alive, we don’t see it as a piece of sea where there are fish and birds. We see it as a mother, something more spiritual.”

He adds, “Today the bay cries for the death of her children, but we also cry for its poisoning…[I’m] fighting for my son, my grandson, your son, your grandson to be able to enjoy a different bay than we see here.”

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