Born in Buenos Aires 28 years ago, the city has been my home all my life. The Riachuelo River surrounds part of Buenos Aires and is the southern boundary of the city. For me and all Argentineans, the river has always been a synonym for pollution and a symbol of the abandonment of natural resources by mankind.
The Riachuelo River measures 64 km in length with a basin that houses 5 million people. It accumulates extraordinary amounts of industrial sewage and waste, which places it as the most polluted river in South America. Two years ago, the river was placed as one of the 10 top polluted sites in the earth by the Blacksmith Institute. The contamination of the river has more than 300 years of history: by the beginning of 18th century, the salting threw their organic waste into the river. Over the centuries and years, more factories have settled in the area, contaminating the river with dangerous substances for the population living in the area. Today, more than 1,100 factories continue to contaminate the basin, creating a very hostile environment to live in. Environmental factors such as diarrheal diseases, respiratory diseases and cancer are significant health problems associated with the multiple industries in the basin.
Many different realities coexist within these 64 kilometers. In the high basin, where the river begins, the water is less contaminated and the people has a closer and healthier relationship with the river. As the water flows, many industries dump their waste in the main course or in tributary streamings, ending in the Riachuelo River and making the low basin the most polluted and dangerous part. By the mouth of the river, the water has very high concentrations of lead, arsenic and cadmium, just in the most populated area of the basin. These compounds permeate the water table from the banks. They seep into the wells from which people draw their drinking water. This provokes different types of serious illnesses to the population. 25 % of the children living in slums by the river have lead in their blood.