Special Report, by Chris Turner
Sewage levels in Rio de Janeiro have become a serious threat to Olympic athletes, as around 70 per cent of the city’s raw waste is spilled into surrounding waters.
When initially submitting the bid for the 2016 games a decade ago, officials claimed that a significant part of the nation’s improvements to its infrastructure. This would involve the construction of eight sewage treatment facilities, which would help begin clearing waste from Rio’s shorelines.
However such developments have not materialised, and sewage levels now pose a severe threat to athletes competing in outdoor water-based events such as sailing and windsurfing. An Associated Press investigation carried out last July concluded that all of Rio’s open-air aquatic venues tested positive for dangerous viruses and bacteria.
A test event in August last year at Guanabara Bay, in Rio, resulted in German sailor Erik Heil and South Korean windsurfer Wonwoo Cho suffering illnesses such as MRSA (a flesh-eating bacteria) which they attributed to the horrific water quality.
A waterborne virus expert said that “there is a 99% chance athletes will be infected if they ingest three teaspoons of the water”.
There have been some conflicting views on the issue, as World Sailing claimed that the 8 per cent illness rate at the event was below the average for such regattas.
Carlos Nuzman, president of the organising committee for the Rio games, told Reuters: “We are working very closely with the state government and the researchers, and I am sure we will have no claims (that the water is polluted) during the games.
He said: “I have no doubt we will have no problems with the sailing at Guanabara Bay. Other Olympic cities have had problems with the waters and fixed them in time and Rio will do the same. The health and wellbeing of the athletes is our first priority. There will be no compromise.”
The likelihood of disease-causing viruses directly linked to human sewage in Rio has been recorded as up to 1.7 million times what would be considered highly alarming inthe U.S. or Europe.
Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, another intended location for aquatic events, has suffered an enormous fish die-out over recent years which has heavily deteriorated its water quality. Similarly to Guanabara Bay, a test event in 2015 resulted in over a dozen American athletes complaining of stomach problems.
In light of recommendations from the World Health Organisation, further testing will begin later this year.