Cleanup Urged for Argentina's Most Polluted River

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By David Haskel

July 14 — Nine years after the Supreme Court ordered the cleanup of the Matanza-Riachuelo, Argentina's most polluted river washing the shores of Buenos Aires, the country's independent ombudsman said the plan it triggered has stagnated and the results “have ceased to be satisfactory.”

In a 72-page report released July 8, the ombudsman's office asked the nation's highest court to command the federal government and the authorities of Buenos Aires city and of Buenos Aires province to come up with a new joint cleanup plan.

The fresh plan should set up more ambitious water quality goals; strengthen industrial-discharge monitoring; implement an integral solid urban waste management system; and devise new water quality, sewage, health and housing goals for the river basin, the document said.

The environmental group Green Cross Switzerland and the New York-based nonprofit Blacksmith Institute in 2013 added the sprawling Matanza-Riachuelo Basin—home to 3.5 million people and to thousands of industries—to their list of top 10 polluted sites around the world.

Big Plans, Few Results

Argentina's Supreme Court in 2006 ordered the jurisdictions involved to come up with a multiyear cleanup plan.

The three jurisdictions established the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (Acumar), made up of representatives from the federal government; the Buenos Aires city government; and Buenos Aires province officials, including the mayors of 14 riverside districts.

The plan eventually was assigned a $6 billion budget, but full provisions for assigning the funds were never made and work soon fell behind schedule.

Throughout the years, the cleaning program was frequently denounced by different actors, including the Supreme Court itself, for failing to meet its goals.

The latest report, signed by Argentina's Ombudsman Carlos Haquim, urged the Supreme Court to step in again and order Acumar to come up with a fresh plan. In Argentina's the ombudsman is an independent official appointed by Congress.

“Although he recognizes that public institutions and policies have been activated, the Ombudsman considers that results have ceased to be satisfactory,” his office said in the release accompanying the report. “It is now necessary to update the tools used to improve the quality of life and attain a safe environment.”

Dark, Smelly Waters 

The Matanza-Riachuelo forms the southern border of Buenos Aires city, Argentina's capital. Notorious for its dark, smelly waters, the waterway runs into the Rio de la Plata, source of much of the drinking water for the 13 million people in the metropolitan area.

Throughout the years, many large and small companies have been relocated from its basin, but by some estimates 15,000 industrial facilities continue to discharge untreated waste into the river.

Likewise, many illegal dumpsites, slums and illicit sewers were eradicated, moved, upgraded or replaced with safer systems, but many remain in place and new waste sites and illegal discharges continue to be denounced.

“The presence of irregular dumpsites in the basin's area exposes major solid urban waste management deficits,” the report said.

Regarding the area's numerous slums, “to date, there is no single list of shantytowns and informal settlements,” adding a major degree of uncertainty to the moves aimed at eradicating them, the report said.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Haskel in Buenos Aires at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

The Argentina ombudsman's report is available, in Spanish, at