Rio De Janeiro Under Fire Over 2016 Summer Olympics Water Pollution Issues

Posted on: August 2, 2015, 09:00h. 

Last updated on: July 31, 2015, 03:38h.

Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics water quality
Despite Rio de Janeiro’s beaches looking pristine from a distance, two recent reports have suggested that water pollution could be a major issue for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the Brazilian capital. (Image: ALAMY)

Rio de Janeiro, to many, is a Brazilian paradise of lush beaches and dazzling Carnival parades, but an issue has now surfaced with the city’s upcoming Olympics that has many athletes concerned.

Betting on the 2016 Summer Olympics isn’t really available yet anywhere, but it seems as though swimmers and other athletes might be gambling on their health just by participating in the global competition.

According to the most recent data released by the Brazilian government, water pollution in Rio de Janeiro has reached such levels that some waters near the city are unfit for swimming.

That pollution reading came from the famous Copacabana Beach, and was based on samples that had been taken on Monday. But they were joined on Thursday by the results of an Associated Press investigation that had been ongoing for five months, one that also found dangerous levels of viruses and bacteria in the waters that will be used for some Olympic events.

High Levels of Adenovirus

The AP found that water from Copacabana Beach featured readings of over 2 million human adenovirus per liter, or about 2,000 times what would be considered a concerning amount at a beach in the United States or Europe. That announcement came just before Olympic qualifiers and a paratriathlon event were scheduled to take place in those waters this weekend.

Brazilian authorities blasted the AP report, noting that neither the EU, the US, or Brazil itself have limits on the viral counts in ocean waters.

But that doesn’t account for the earlier report from the state environmental agency. That warning was based on high levels of fecal coliforms in the water: single-cell organisms that normally live in the intestines of animals (including humans), and which can signal the presence of dangerous diseases like cholera and dysentery.

Water Quality Is Ongoing Issue for Rio

The problem may come from a high level of sewage that is present in those waters. The four rounds of AP tests and the warnings from Rio’s state authorities seemed to confirm what some athletes who had been training in the area already suspected.

“I’ve had high temperatures and problems with my stomach,” David Hussl, an Austrian sailor who has been training in Guanabara Bay, told The New York Times. “It’s always one day completely in bed and then usually not sailing for two or three days.”

Brazilian officials have said that improving the waterways of Rio de Janeiro is a major focus of Olympic preparations. The city has long had issues with water pollution, as waste runs throughout the city through open ditches that ultimately feed waterways, leaving the sewage to ultimately end up on beaches and in open water.

So far, the International Olympic Committee has said that testing for bacteria alone is enough for them, and IOC officials say that the World Health Organization has told them that there is “no significant risk” to athletes competing in Brazil. However, many experts who have looked at the results of the AP investigation dispute that assessment.

“What you have there is basically raw sewage,” marine biologist John Griffith said. “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 2016 Summer Olympics are scheduled to take place next August. Rio de Janeiro is scheduled to become the first South American city to host the Summer Olympics.