Douro river pollution poses ‘public health hazard’

Levels of pollution in the Douro river near Porto have made it a public health hazard.

So say investigators after tests confirmed the presence of ‘vibrio cholerae’ (the agent responsible for cholera), residues of anti-depressants, antibiotics, anti-anxiety medication and “various other medications”.

Says hydrobiologist Adriano Bordalo e Sá, attached to the Abel Salazar Institute of Biomedical Science: “These compounds come from domestic and hospital sewage systems.

At the height of the summer the “huge demographic pressure as a result of tourism powers contamination”, he explains – stressing the situation has not been helped by “negligence and climate change”.

The quality of the Douro river’s waters has deteriorated “alarmingly” since 1985, said the export, with “different authorities simply looking the other way”.

Porto borough council has tried to refute the allegations, telling Correio da Manhã tabloid that “the company Aguas do Porto carries out daily inspections and checks of the networks. Tributaries are subjected to disinfection by UV radiation, reducing the quantity of E-coli deposited into the waters”.

But locals are only too aware that things are not right. They appear to agree with the argument that authorities are simply not doing enough.

Fisherman Augusto Almeida told CM: “I have been fishing in the Douro for 30 years. There is a lot less fish now, and an enormous difference. The colours of the water are not good. I am not an expert but something must have happened for the fish to have disappeared”.

Resident Joaquim Bernardo Silva told the paper: “Tourists and youngsters swim in the water. You can see the pollution on the riverbanks. Unfortunately, this is all caused by sewerage problems. We all know this. It’s a real pity”.

Portuguese environment agency APA has blamed some of the problems on the ‘pressure’ of tourist pleasure boats – particularly large river cruise ships. But one of the leading operators, Douro Azul, has “guaranteed” systems are in place to collect all polluting deposits.

APA is responsible for checking all discharges into the river. A source told CM that the greatest risk to the waters emanates from the “intense use” of the estuary by all the entities that operate within it.

As a result, meetings have been called with licensing authorities in a bid to regulate the number of firms given the green-light to operate.

The question left hanging in the air, is ‘can this be enough’?

Worse, tabloid Jornal de Notícias claims a plan to regulate the situation in the estuary “has been left the drawer for for a decade”.

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