Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.
An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.
It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.
Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.
Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites.
As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.
Despite promises to clean the Rio de Janeiro bay in time for the 2016 Olympics, mayor Eduardo Paes was forced to admit this week that some of the athletes are just going to have to deal with competing in the raw sewage expelled by a large, poorly managed city.
A helicopter ride Monday organized by biologist and environmental activist Mario Moscatelli illustrated the extent of the problem, revealing household trash floating throughout the entire bay, including within lanes for the Olympic sailing competition.
Heavy rains in Rio over the weekend exacerbated the problem. Each time the tropical city sees heavy rains, the amount of raw sewage emanating from the city’s more than 1,000 “favela” slums spikes and huge amounts of trash are flushed off the streets and into area waterways.
“I think it’s a shame,” Paes reportedly told SporTV.