Rio Olympic Water Badly Polluted…Even Far Offshore
In July the AP reported that its first round of ocean water tests showed disease-causing viruses directly linked to human sewage at levels to be considered highly alarming in the U.S. or Europe. Experts said athletes were competing in the viral equivalent of raw sewage and exposure to dangerous health risks almost certain.
The story gets worse – the pollution and the IOC’s passive reaction has caused World Sailing’s president to resign!
In August, after pre-Olympic rowing and sailing events in Rio led to illnesses among athletes nearly double the acceptable limit in the U.S. for swimmers in recreational waters, sports officials pledged that the waters were safe for competition in next year’s games. Since August water testing reveals more widely contamination than previously known. The number of viruses found over a kilometer from the shore in Guanabara Bay, where sailors compete at high speeds and get utterly drenched, are equal to those found along shorelines closer to sewage sources.
The Rio 2016 Olympic organizing committee said that “the health and safety of athletes is always a top priority and there is no doubt that water within the field of play meets the relevant standards.” AP’s testing in Rio, where the water often falls within safe fecal bacteria levels, but shows levels of viruses akin to raw sewage. Many of the testing points show spikes in bacterial contamination — especially in the Olympic lagoon and in the marina where sailors launch crafts. Rio’s waterways, like those of many developing nations, are contaminated because most of the city’s sewage is not treated and massive amounts of it flow straight into Guanabara Bay.
Rio won the right to host the Olympics based on a lengthy bid document that promised to clean up the city’s scenic waterways by improving sewage sanitation; Brazilian officials now acknowledge that won’t happen.
Athletes in Rio test events have tried many treatments to avoid falling ill, including bleaching rowing oars, hosing off their bodies the second they finish competing, and preemptively taking antibiotics — which have no effect on viruses. In August, athletes at a competition fell ill; The World Rowing Federation reported that 6.7 percent of 567 rowers got sick at a junior championships event in Rio. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum illness rate for swimming is 3.6 percent — and many experts say that is too high.
Water quality experts say a virus count hitting 1,000 per liter in the U.S. or Europe would cause extreme alarm, leading in many cases to beach closures. Recent viral levels were all 30,000 times higher than the U.S. or European highly alarming levels at every of AP’s new offshore sampling sites: at a point 600 meters (yards) offshore and within the Sugarloaf sailing race course; at 1,300 meters (yards) offshore within the Naval School sailing circuit; and at a spot inside the Olympic lagoon where rowing lanes are located, about 200 meters (yards) from shore.
In September tests at the Naval School race course and offshore lagoon points, the water tested positive for enterovirus, a major cause of respiratory illness, gastrointestinal ailments and, less often, serious heart and brain inflammation.
Risk assessment experts say that the sheer number of pathogens in Rio’s waters means the risk to human health is unacceptable. Rio de Janeiro state authorities promised to complete sewerage infrastructure near the Marina da Gloria by the end of this year and are making progress. Authorities say Olympic venues will then be safe.
But the high levels of sewage-linked pathogens found in the offshore sailing courses pollution come from dozens of rivers that crisscross metropolitan Rio and dump millions of liters of raw sewage into the bay each day. By the government’s own estimate, just half of the city’s wastewater flowing into the bay is treated.
Sailors are concerned as are other venue participants. One American, himself a winner of two gold medals and one bronze swimming medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games, said if his daughter were a contender in Rio’s open-water swimming competition, he would tell her not to compete. “A gold medal is not worth jeopardizing your health, and it doesn’t appear at this point that the athletes are being considered first.” RIO DE JANEIRO (AP-Brad Brooks). This is a dilemma Olympians don’t need to be worried about. POV Pat Dwight