Rio's Famous Beaches Need Cleanup

Rio has advice for visitors to its famous beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema may be hazardous to your health.

The city is preparing to rate its beaches, like hotels or restaurants, and a preliminary study revealed bacteria in much of its most celebrated sand that can be harmful to beachgoers.

Rio’s municipal Environmental Office tested sand at 22 sites, from Guanabara Bay to the open-sea beaches that line the city’s Atlantic coast. Researchers measured the amount of coliform bacteria that indicates contamination by sewage or garbage and can cause skin disease or worms.

‘Black Tongues’ Blamed

Not surprisingly, the beach at the traditional Botafogo district inside the bay was the most polluted, showing higher-than-acceptable levels of bacteria in 56 percent of the samples taken.

A central point on Copacabana beach was next, with 44 percent of samples over the limit. Two sites on upscale Ipanema and neighboring Leblon beaches followed, with 33 percent.

The cleanest beaches were Praia Vermelha, at the foot of Sugarloaf, and the Pepino, Prainha and Grumari beaches farther down the coast.

The pollution comes from waste that washes down from hillsides or is illegally dumped in rain runoff ditches and flows to the sea — pollution known here as “black tongues.” Another source is animal feces left by pets.

Environmental Secretary Mauricio Lobo said the city planned to hire a company to measure the cleanliness of sand at 34 points and release a rating every two weeks. Rio is Brazil’s main tourist gateway, and the city’s hotel district is centered in Copacabana and Ipanema.