Brazilians Embark on River Cleanup Plan Sao Paulo Radio Station Ignites Movement to Detoxify the Tiete. URBAN ENVIRONMENT

Article excerpt

A YEAR ago, Brazilians in a city park here got dressed up in alligator costumes, rode hot air balloons, sang songs, signed petitions, and made speeches to save the Tiete river, an urban waterway made lifeless by pollution.

That rally evolved into a popular movement to clean up the river, and helped to galvanize officials. The pollution sources have been mapped and some companies have begun working to treat their effluent. In July, the state government proposed a $2.6 billion four-year cleanup plan. And Sao Paulo governor Luis Antonio Fleury Filho recently went to Washington, where he persuaded the Inter-American Development Bank to lend $450 million for sewage treatment plants, part of the cleanup plan.

The plan would construct new sewer systems that include collectors and five new treatment plants, while also investing in industrial treatment to put oxygen back into the Tiets waters.

"No one is saying that in four years the river will be totally clean, but it will be much better," says Lineu Alonso, director of pollution control for the metropolitan region at CETESB, the State Company for Technology and Environmental Sanitation. "There will be the beginning of life in the river for flora and fauna, and it will look cleaner."

The state of Sao Paulo has already committed $1.15 billion to the plan, part of it from the federal government. Private companies are also pledged to put up $300 million to $400 million, and the World Bank may also help pay the tab, Mr. Alonso says.

The pollution is the result of Brazil's rapid industrialization, which began in the 1950s and turned the state of Sao Paulo into a national powerhouse churning out half of the nation's annual GNP, today around $350 billion.

"The goal was growth of the city, and in developing countries like ours there weren't ample resources, so they were used for other things, {not environmental protection}," Alonso explains. "Now, society is more aware."

Activists add that for many years, officials were unwilling to commit themselves to cleanup projects that would last longer than their terms of office.

So far, the city's sewage-treatment system has been unable to keep up with Sao Paulo's rapid growth. The river daily receives untreated waste from thousands of homes and roughly 39,000 companies. Of the latter, CETESB targeted 1,200 companies, responsible for 90 percent of the pollution, and is working with them to implement cleanup plans.

The CETESB list of offenders is long and includes subsidiaries of such US-based multinationals as Colgate-Palmolive, Quaker Oats, Avon, and Philip Morris International Inc. A locally owned Coca-Cola bottling franchise ranks sixth on the CETESB list. …