An investigation of venues in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, by The Associated Press has found high levels of bacteria and viruses from sewage in the water, which could pose health threats to athletes who will participate in the Olympic and Paralympic water sports.
The AP conducted four rounds of tests at the venues of the games beginning in March and found that none of these were ready for the boating and swimming events. The waters consistently revealed large amounts of human adenoviruses known to cause respiratory trouble, diarrhea and intense vomiting.
The concentration of the pathogens was so high they were comparable to those seen in raw sewage. Water experts who looked at the data gathered by the AP said that the water is not safe for boating or swimming.
Experts said that those who ingest just three teaspoonfuls of water have nearly a 100 percent chance of getting infected by a virus. However, not everyone who ingests the water will become ill, as infection depends on a person's immunity and other factors.
"What you have there is basically raw sewage," said marine biologist John Griffith, from the independent Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. "It's all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it's going out into the beach waters."
The results have caused alarm and dismayed competitors who already train in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with vomiting, fevers and diarrhea, ailments that could knock out athletes for days and could have an unwanted impact on their Olympic dreams.
Austrian team coach Ivan Bulaja described Rio's water quality as the worst team members have seen in their sailing careers. Sailor David Hussl, on the other hand, has already fallen ill with fevers and stomach problems.
Brazil's urban areas are marked by sewage that is neither collected nor treated. In Rio, Brazil's second-largest city with a population of about 9.6 million, much of the waste from open-air ditches and stinking rivers and streams goes into the Olympic water sites.
Although authorities have pledged of a major overhaul of the waterways, smelly raw sewage still greets visitors who arrive at the international airport. Beaches are marked by thick and putrid sludge. The Olympic lake has high levels of fecal coliform and is littered with dead and rotting fish.
Over 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries worldwide are set to compete in the games scheduled for Aug. 5-21, 2016. Of these, almost 1,400 events will be in contact with waters that are contaminated by sewage pollution.
Photo: Rosino | Flickr