There is more negative news being reported surrounding the ongoing issue of water pollution at 2016 Rio Olympic Games venues.
We previously reported how grave concerns were being voiced even back in March of this year, as Rio’s Guanabara Bay specifically was visibly plagued by millions of dead fish, sewage and bacteria, despite Rio organizers having committed during their Games bid to reduce the pollution by 80 percent by January of this year. The Washington Post later revealed the Brazilian government backed off that commitment, saying “efforts were being hampered by a lack of available boats to do the job” due to contract delays as well as delays in “dealing with the graver longer term issue of sewage build-up.”
Flash forward to earlier this month, when the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) began collecting data on water pollution after the Associated Press deemed all water venues for the Games were unsafe for swimming. In their tests, the AP found that were “dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in the Olympic and Paralympic venues.” Despite this, Rio State Government officials have insisted that these issues in Guanabara Bay will cause no problems at the 2016 Olympics.
Reports are now coming out that the U.S. women’s rowing team has had several members fall ill since participating in a recent test event in Rio at Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. Thirteen rowers have been stricken with various gastrointestinal symptoms at the World Junior Rowing Championships and the team doctor said it is her “personal feeling it is due to the lake.”
U.S. Rowing medical staff is not the only group to suspect a link between polluted waters in Rio and resulting athlete sickness. Recently, Michael Phelps’ longtime coach Bob Bowman also expressed his concern in the water quality of open water swimming in Rio. Bowman described his personal connection to the issue stating, “I happened to coach a young lady at the 2007 Pan Am Games there, and she came back and has been sick the rest of her life with a life-altering illness.”
Bowman was referring to 2007 Pan American Games 10k fourth place finisher Kalyn Keller, who was later diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, resulting in her early retirement in 2008. Chip Peterson, who also swam in the men’s version of the race that same year has encountered ongoing health problems, including ulcerative colitis. From these experiences alone, Bowman said, “So I know first-hand that it’s serious. They’ve got to do something about it.”
US Rowing said it is investigating the cause of the athletes’ sickness, including looking not only at pollution as the culprit, but also looking at water bottles used in the boats or hygiene precautions that some athletes undertook that others didn’t.
Head of World Rowing, Matt Smith, said he wants the IOC to ask Rio de Janeiro to perform viral testing in the remaining months leading up to the Olympics. However, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Rio state environment agency does not have the equipment or the trained personnel to carry out viral testing of water. “The agency confirmed it only does bacterial testing, since that is all Brazilian law, like that of most nations including the U.S., demands.”
As such, if Rio state officials decline to conduct testing, Smith said the rowing, sailing, swimming, canoeing and triathlon federations may unite to possibly finance their own testing of the venues.