By Ana Gabriela Ribeiro, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The neighborhood of Leblon is perhaps the most exclusive and expensive in the city, yet bordered on two sides by canals draining into the sea, polluted water is often harming the beach’s appeal. On one side is the Jardim de Allah canal, and the other side the Visconde de Albuquerque canal, and residents have since, long been hoping for some solutions.

The canal that runs along Rua Visconde de Albuquerque on Lelon's western border, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The canal that runs along Rua Visconde de Albuquerque on Lelon's western border, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative License.

Some of the more astute locals know there is information available at the Inea website (State Institute for the Environment) regarding the current water quality, but it is hard to keep up with, especially on a sunny Sunday morning after bathing suit and sunscreen are already on.

The levels of water contamination has been a complex issue for the city, who have recently announced a program called “Sena Limpa” that promises to clean up beaches until 2014, starting this year with Ipanema Beach.

According engineer Benito Da Rin, writer and blogger for O Globo working for 54 years in the field, most Cariocas (and the media) have no real knowledge of what “the pollution” is. For instance, people think that coliform bacteria is the same as fecal coliform – which is much different and can cause health problems.

Da Rin explains that there is a standard number of acceptable coliform in any given water sample, and this is how the sea water is monitored. However, this system is mainly based on the water appearance; it means little to how it affects people’s health.

“Of course no one will want to bathe in a dirty sea, it is not pleasant,” states Da Rin. Nevertheless, no one gets sick by bathing on a dirty sea, “The only way to get a serious disease like typho, for instance, is by drinking seven liters of polluted water, not by skin contact as one might believe.”

It is not a new concern for residents of Leblon, and for many the science is less of a concern then the appearance. Julia Macedo, who goes to Leblon Beach, says, “It is the color of the water that counts. If it is too dirty, I will just take a shower [at the public beach bathrooms].”

Jardim de Allah canal pours into the beach between Ipanema and Leblon, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Jardim de Allah canal pours into the beach between Ipanema and Leblon, photo by Ana Gabriela Ribeiro.

For Gabriel Mellin, a surfer living in Leblon, pollution is a major issue but it doesn’t keep him out of the water. “I guess Cariocas already have antibodies,” Mellin laughs.

However, British expatriate Mary Byker, who owns Mekong restaurant in Leblon, is less forgiving and says, “the treatment of waste and pollution [in the] various canals that run into the sea have been left unchecked for a long time,” and he hopes “new measures will come into effect sooner than later so Rio can have clean beaches that Cariocas deserve,” says Byker.

In regard to the source of the contaminated water, engineer Da Rin explains illegal and un-zoned rainwater drainage pipe connections are among the major sources of pollution. In Rocinha, at least 100,000 people are illegally connected to Visconde de Albuquerque’s canal, which makes it difficult to control where the pollution comes from.

Another major problem is the illegal sewage pipe connections – termed gatos (cats) – made by people living in expensive parts of the city as well: “A famous football player decides to build a bathroom on the top floor of his building in Lagoa, and decides to connect his toilet on the rainwater sewage downpipe. We [should] track this gato and give him a fine,” Da Rin exclaims.


  1. Well, not only in Leblon, the problem of water pollution is being faced world over. The main reason behind is the ignorance of people and not seeing this issue with high interest. Some serious and effective steps must be soon otherwise the situation will be out of control.

  2. We need to remember just how dependent Rio is on the tourism industry. Tourists are not going to be interested in the technicalities of what constitutes pollution. Our visitors arrive with the belief that Rio’s beaches are not only some of the most beautiful in the world but also clean and safe. It’s critical that they leave with that same impression. If Rio loses it’s reputation for beautiful clean beaches, everyone suffers. The cost to recover from a negative reputation will be exponentially higher than the cost to fix the problem now.

    Da Rin is correct that people should be held accountable for illegally dumping sewage/water. It’s relatively easy to track down these people. My guess is however that this “famous football player” wouldn’t do his own plumbing. Whatever contractor that did should be held to an even higher level of accountability.

  3. On recent visits to Rio from Australia I have been very disappointed by the water quality both in the bay and the ocean… I do hope there is a concerted effort to ‘clean up’.

  4. Both Cariocas and visitors want and deserve clean beaches and a clean ocean! Merely because people are not becoming sick does not mean the water is pure and pleasant! For goodness sake – this is Cidade Maravilhosa, one of the best places on our planet! Let Rio de Janeiro be clean, safe, and spectacular!

  5. Hi there,

    Richard is right. As a future tourist, coming in October 2012, I will probably skip swimming in Leblon. I will probably try Ipanema. Those beaches are your front face, do care about them!;)

  6. Well, sorry to say but Ipanema is not much better than Leblon. If you read Portuguese and spent a couple of minutes on reading you’ll soon find out that all beaches in “zona sul” are so poluted with bacterias causing (risk of) serious health problems such as Hepatitis and diarreia.

    Especially after heavy rainfall (most likely during the high season, summer) it’s not recommendable at all to have a quick swim at any of the many beaches, Flamengo, Botafogo, Praia Vermelha (Sugar Loaf), Leme, Copacabana (in the middle it’s acceptable after a couple of days with dry weather), Arpoador, Ipanema and Leblon. Sao Conrado (next to Favela Rocinha/Fashion Mall) – don’t even consider.

    If you have the guts and take a quick dip anyway then don’t clean your body at the free showers at the beach (where the locals sell coconuts, drinks, beverages etc.) as it’s poluted sea water. Do use the “postos” at the pavement and pay a few Reais since it’s “clean(er) water” and suitable for showering.


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