RIO DE JANEIRO — The city’s water supply has once again been infected with a non-toxic but foul-smelling bacteria called geosmin according to Rio’s state water and sewer company Cedae.
Ana Barbara de Mello, a physiotherapist who lives in the west of the city, said this is an eerily similar situation to the one Rio citizens faced already.
“The first time I saw a difference in the water was last year, about the same time, at the beginning of the year,” she said.
This year, Marcela Cutier, a psychology student at Rio’s UNISUAM university, realized the water was different in mid-January. Like everyone else in Rio de Janeiro, the student noted a weird taste in the water.
Cutier has children at home and as an alternative, she tries to “boil water and when I don’t boil unfortunately we drink like that.”
She believes the fault is with the state, as it would not be the first time, and expects it won’t be the last time. But it’s made worse by the pandemic and “that we see the government neglecting the population,” Cutier said.
One of her classmates, Brenda Monaliza, said she thinks it is “absurd” what is happening with Cedae.
“I believe that the government is doing it on purpose so they can privatize the company and sell in parts, as they have been doing over the years,” Monaliza said.
Daniella Faria, a biology professor who graduated in biological sciences with a specialization in environmental management, said the agencies that work with sanitation have developed several pieces of research showing geosmin doesn’t have a direct impact on physical health.
It does, however, have a great psychological impact, creating more of an emotional than physical discomfort.
“Because when a person consumes the water and feel the taste and smell, they imagine a dirty water that is not fit for consumption,” Faria said.
Geosmin is a natural substance produced by some organisms, mainly bacteria. In polluted environments, there will be an increase of the substance, which gives the earthy smell, similar to the odor of soil after a rainfall.
The substance is not responsible for any discolouration of the water. But a blurred colouring indicates a more serious case of a possible lack of treatment. The increase of pollution in Rio de Janeiro’s water source, the Guandu River, is expanding this concentration of geosmin.
As a solution, Faria said authorities should “reduce this supply of sewage in the river.” She said the faster option, which is what is being used, “is to increase the purification using activated carbon, which is not precisely efficient but has contributed more to remove that taste and smell from drinking water.”
According to the Cedae website, the water distributed in Rio de Janeiro is within the standards of potability and consumption since Jan. 28 despite the reported colour and smell.