Just weeks before the start of the Summer Olympics, tourists at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Copacabana Beach discovered mutilated body parts washing ashore, a reminder that many of the seaside venues reserved for athletes suffer from extraordinary pollution that could endanger the health of those in contact with the water.
Reuters reports that a street vendor first alerted the media to the discovery in the beach. Extra, a Brazilian outlet linked to the Globo newspaper claiming to have had contact with the vendor through Whatsapp, reported that many in the area were stunned by the discovery, questioning whether it was part of a prank. Few facts are available about the body parts; police merely confirmed the discovery to Reuters. CNN describes the parts as a “dismembered foot and another body part still unidentified,” believed to have belonged to a “woman or young adult.”
Police Lt. Col. Sergio Murilo Miranda Angelotti told Extra that the foot is in such a state of decomposition that finding any further information will prove a challenge. “It may have come from anywhere,” he said. “It is very strange, because it is not a full dismembered body, only one foot. … It may have even been a drowned body that has decomposed.”
Copacabana, one of the cleanest bodies of water in Rio de Janeiro, is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics beach volleyball tournament in August. Olympic organizers have continued to campaign to attract tourists for the event following the discovery of the foot. The beach will be one of a number of seaside venues hosting events, among them Lagoa, the lagoon area reserved for rowing, and Guanabara Bay, a body of water so polluted locals refer to it as “the latrine.”
Guanabara Bay will host Olympic swimming, and those practicing in it have already suffered rashes and bouts of vomiting when coming into contact with the water. One sailboat capsized after running into a wayward sofa floating in the water. The Daily Mail, reporting on-site, adds human waste from a local hospital, feces and other waste dumped out of homes by locals, “unwanted meat and chicken parts,” and used bottles and cans to the list of refuse floating in the bay.
The abundance of recyclable materials like cans and bottles attracts local impoverished children; those who reject a life of selling drugs swim in Guanabara looking for material they can recycle and sell for petty cash. “We found young boys excitedly wading, rowing – and even swimming – into the putrid waters to collect plastic bags and bottles, aluminium [sic] cans, copper wires, and any other items which could later be sold or recycled,” the Daily Mail notes.
The less objectionable water venues in Rio de Janeiro are nonetheless toxic. A study released earlier this month found that waters off numerous beaches, including Copacabana, and Flamengo Beach, a sailing venue, tested positive for a “super bacteria” Reuters describes as typically only existing within hospital confines. The bacteria are referred to as “super” because of their resistance to antibiotics, making recovery more difficult for those infected.