A recent series of water quality tests, as again commissioned by the Associated Press, once more reveal startling levels of viral and bacterial pathogens in Rio de Janeiro waters, as reported by the AP today. These tests are most troublesome to the hundreds of sailing, swimming, rowing and canoeing athletes who will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
From the top of the bayside Sugarloaf Mountain, picturesque views of the Guanabara Bay deceptively entice all to swim or boat. Yet, beneath the surf, the continuing high pathogen levels are alarming. The AP has newly found that the both the bay’s shoreline and offshore waters are contaminated due to several squalid tributaries and sewage drains spewing pollutants.
Despite promises made by the Rio Olympics Organizing Committee (ROOC) during its bidding in 2009 for these Summer Games, and recent assurances by both city and state officials, reported viral levels were 30,000 times greater than levels considered alarming in the United States.
“We’re talking about an extreme environment, where the pollution is so high that exposure is imminent and the chance of infection very likely,” said Kristina Mena, an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center, in an AP interview.
These viruses have been known to cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses. As proof, just ask Olympic contenders who competed in sailing, rowing, and triathlon events earlier this year. Sailors came down with severe skin infections, and rowers fell victim to digestive illnesses.
The International Olympic Committee supports the World Health Organization’s position that bacterial testing meets the global standard, while viral testing is advisable. And the ROOC yesterday reiterated to the AP in a rote reply that, “The health and safety of athletes is always a top priority. Rio 2016 follows the expert advice of the World Health Organization, whose guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments recommend classifying water through a regular program of microbial water quality testing.”
To that end, Brazilian authorities are seemingly making strides to minimize this pollution via a major sewage containment project at a single source – the Marina da Gloria inlet (see photo), in the shadows of Sugarloaf Mountain. They claim that this localized, remedial work will ensure the entire bay is safe for medal contenders in August.
Subscribe to all my articles in the run-up to the exciting, yet controversial Rio Summer Olympics.