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Disturbing footage of river in Brazil sparks concern on social media: 'Absolutely terrible'

"Go after the corporation that caused all this."

Footage of polluted Tietê river caused by household detergents

Photo Credit: @cnn / Instagram

A stretch of Brazil's Tietê river is covered with a smelly, toxic foam caused by household detergents, and conservationists are demanding action.

What's happening?

The approximately 684-mile-long Tietê river is not far from Latin America's largest city and Brazil's financial center of São Paulo, which is home to about 22 million people, according to Phys.org.

Parts of the river, including one stretch just 62 miles from the city, are now polluted with phosphate and phosphorus residues from household detergents. These pollutants made their way into the river via Sao Paulo's sewer system.

The river has been covered with a layer of foam since early July. At one point, the smelly mess was spread over more than 6 miles.

CNN shared footage of the foam on Instagram, where viewers shared their anger over the issue.

"Go after the corporation who caused all this," one user demanded, to which another replied: "From the pictures it looks like all of 'em."

"We are ruining this planet at such a rapid pace," said a third, with another user adding: "Absolutely terrible." 

Why is the river foam concerning?

Malu Ribeiro of SOS Mata Atlântica, a Brazil-based conservation organization, said that fumes from the foam can cause sore throats and breathing problems. Contact with the polluted water can also irritate skin. Fumes contain harmful hydrogen sulfide gas and smell like rotten eggs.

Furthermore, the foam is dangerous to the river's animal and plant inhabitants. Having similar effects as acid rain, the foam is killing fish, birds, and vegetation, per BNN Breaking.

This isn't the first time the Tietê river has faced toxic foam — the issue has been going on for decades. Pollution in one stretch of the river even increased by 40% in 2022, per SOS Mata Atlantica via CNN. Sometimes, the foam gets so bad that it spills over into the streets of nearby towns, according to BNN Breaking.

What's being done about the river foam?

Brazil has tried to tackle the problem by improving water treatment and encouraging residents to use less detergents. While these measures have helped, they haven't completely solved the issue. For one thing, just over half of wastewater in the Alto Tietê basin that serves São Paulo is treated, Phys.org reported.

SOS Mata Atlântica has been monitoring the river for three decades and is calling for its restoration and protection. 

Ribeiro, a spokesperson with SOS Mata Atlântica, called for more sewage treatment, environmental education, and sustainable development to prevent further damage to the Tietê.

She urged people to stop using detergents with phosphates or phosphorus, and her organization is seeking a ban on these ingredients in household cleaning products. These chemicals are already banned in some countries because of their negative environmental impacts.

Ribeiro also encouraged people to report any signs of pollution in the river to local authorities and to demand more action from them.

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