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Project March 12, 2024

The Polluted River of Buenos Aires



Polluted water from storm sewers in Argentina's Buenos Aires province empty into Riachuelo de la Matanza. Image by Jacob Boyko. Argentina, 2023.

For more than two centuries, Argentina's Matanza-Riachuelo river basin served as the capital city's dumping ground. In Buenos Aires' early days, the river sat at the outskirts, and it was a convenient way to exit refuse and unwanted materials from the city. But as the city grew and changed, the mentality of environmental indifference did not.

The result is what is widely recognized as one of the world's most-polluted rivers. In addition to the environmental catastrophe, the misuse of the river by industrial actors also created a health crisis, with the heavy metals and contaminants in the river contributing to residents' lead toxicity, skin conditions, and respiratory diseases.

Hope sparked in 2004 when residents of the basin's most polluted areas sued the government and demanded something be done about the environmental disaster unfolding before them. The Supreme Court ruled the government must clean up the river basin through the new river basin authority, Autoridad de Cuenca Matanza Riachuelo [ACUMAR].

Since its inception, ACUMAR has worked to remove the river's debris and contaminants, regulated industrial actors along the river, and provided health services for residents of the basin. Though critics challenge the agency's efficacy, most applaud the strides made on water quality. 

Now, with the election of Javier Milei as president, who has committed to cut government funding for environmental projects and has positioned himself against government intervention, that progress may be erased.


navy halftone illustration of a female doctor with her arms crossed


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