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NASA satellites see contaminated water flowing into Atlantic

High levels of mercury, arsenic, chromium and manganese were found in water samples.

By Brooks Hays
NASA satellites see contaminated water flowing into Atlantic
A dam collapse at a mine in Brazil continues to contaminate river water flowing into the Atlantic. The pollution can be seen from space. Photo by NASA/Landsat

BENTO RODRIGUES, Brazil, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Brazil is famous for its biodiversity, deep jungles and dramatic coastline. But lately, the nation's water pollution problems are making the headlines.

Olympic athletes preparing for the 2016 Summer Games are voicing concern over the safety of Brazil's water. But you don't have to swim in Brazil's water to see it's contaminated.

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The pollution is even visible from space. Last month, NASA's Landsat 8 satellite snapped a picture of tainted water flowing down Brazil's Rio Doce -- Sweet River -- into the Atlantic Ocean.

The image, captured by Landsat's Operational Land Imager on Monday, was posted this week on NASA's Earth Observatory homepage.

The contamination is the result of the deadly collapse of two dams at an iron mine near the village of Bento Rodrigues in southeastern Brazil. Flood water carried mud, sewage and heavy metals into the river and down into the Atlantic. Pollution continued to drift downstream for the entire month of November. The cleanup is ongoing.

High levels of mercury, arsenic, chromium and manganese were found in water samples collected from the contaminated river.

"The biodiversity of the river is completely lost, several species including endemic ones must be extinct," Aloysio da Silva Ferrao Filho, an environmental researcher with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, told the magazine Chemistry World.

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Conservationists worry the pollution will wreak even more havoc at the river's mouth.

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