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Rio Governor Fires Water Utility Chief

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has dismissed the President of CEDAE, the State Water and Sewerage Company as the city’s weeks-long water supply and sanitation crisis shows little sign of abating.

Helio Cabral is to be replaced by environmental engineer Renato do Espírito Santo according (10 February) to the office of governor Wilson Witzel, who also called for privatisation of the utility as the only solution to ongoing funding challenges associated with the crisis.

Residents of Rio are becoming increasingly worried as they have been on the receiving end of foul water. Despite a huge doubling of cases of diarrhoea, gastroenteritis and vomiting in Rio’s west zone, CEDAE continues to deny that the water poses any threat to public health. Supermarkets in the city have sold out of bottled water.

CEDAE has identified that the colour and foul nature of municipal water is caused by geosmin, described as “an organic compound that is innocuous” that will be treated with activated carbon.

The rise in geosmin in Rio’s water has been attributed to summer rains washing soil into rivers, forming blue-green algae that thrive in polluted waters. As cyanobacteria, the algae can produce the toxin Microcystin which is harmful for consumption by humans. There has been a proliferation of counter-assertions of considerable contamination by fecal coliforms, which authorities have described as "fake news".

Speaking to Merco Press, Sergio Marques, the official in charge of water quality said: “The results of the analyses show the presence of geosmin, at a rate sufficient to change the taste. But there is no risk to health.”

Police have investigated whether CEDAE employees or a third party may have committed a crime resulting in contamination of the water supply. Agents carried out investigations 16 January at the Guandu water treatment plant in Nova Iguaçu, where the presence of geosmin was detected the previous week.

Experts at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Polytechnic School (UFRJ) have confirmed that addition of activated charcoal in water treatment is normal but that the current situation could prove difficult to manage. The University's Issac Volschan has linked the change in water quality to environmental and/or human causes, stating that a combination of nutrients in the water with solar radiation could lead to the algal blooms and development of other bacteria, and suggested that untreated sewage could be in rivers in the catchment area of the Guandu River.

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