Water pollution still a concern for Rio 2016’s open water swimming site

FINA announced that it will be keeping an eye on the water quality around Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic venues after an AP report this week raised concerns about Rio’s progress in cleaning up polluted bodies of water in preparation for the Games.

Notable in the report: nearly 70 percent of Rio’s sewage goes untreated, being dumped or running off into waterways like Copacabana, where the open water swims are scheduled to take place in just 2 and a half years.

In fact, fecal coliform bacteria measured in Copacabana as recently as three weeks ago came in at a level 16 times higher than Brazil’s ‘satisfactory’ level. And the Washington Post reports that the average fecal pollution level in the waters surrounding the future Olympic site is 195 times greater than the amount considered ‘safe’ within the U.S.

That the beaches and bodies of water in Rio are polluted is nothing new, Rio promised to clean up the waters to a satisfactory level in its Olympic bid. But various experts have commented publicly over the past week saying that cleanup efforts are far behind and not making much  noticeable progress.

Spokespeople from various athletic federations including swimming (FINA), rowing (FISA) and sailing (ISAF) have expressed their concern over the health of athletes, pledging to independently test the water quality leading up to the Olympic games and even addressing a potential cancellation of Olympic events if the safety hazards are too high.

The triathlon event will take place in the same Copacabana waters that the open water swimming races will use. Sailing will take place in Guanabara Bay, which has its own problems in addition to sewage pollution, including byproducts from a nearby landfill that closed last year and the presence of household trash and even pieces of furniture dumped into the waters, according to the Washington Post. Rowing and canoeing will take place in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, prone to sudden massive fish die-offs, as reported by the Associated Press.

The Beijing Olympics dealt with its fair share of environmental hazards, most notably regarding air pollution. But the 2008 Games had a relatively short brush with water quality issues when a thick algae bloom cropped up in the Olympic sailing venue just about a month before the opening ceremonies. Algae blooms are often caused by industrial and chemical pollution, although Chinese officials claimed this particular outbreak was brought on by temperature and salinity conditions.

The algae was ultimately a non-factor, though, cleaned up by well over a thousand fishing boats dredging the waters for two weeks to remove the bloom.

Rio organizers haven’t denied the pollution issues while answering media questions this week, but have promised to make sure that the waters would be free of health hazards by the time the Games kick off in the summer of 2016.

“Rio 2016 can guarantee beyond any doubt that no athlete, official or member of the Olympic family will be put at risk,” organizers told the AP earlier this week. “The health and welfare of the athletes is always our top priority.”

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Daniela Azamor
6 years ago

We swim in Copacabana and our group is coached by former Olympian Luiz Lima and no one has ever got sick, where is the venue for Rio 2016. Indeed, some days because of the tide the water can be dirty on the shore with garbage that people leave in the send and throw in the ocean.

None of us has ever got sick, we are over 90 swimmers training regularly 3 times per week.

Also we have a large open water race at Copacabana with over 4000 swimmers (www.reirainhadomar.com.br) hosted since 2009.

Indeed the government has not achieved the dispolution on Guanabara Bay and this is the sailing venue. A real shame.

Reply to  Daniela Azamor
6 years ago

But people from other countries who’s bodies aren’t immune to your Local water may very easily become ill with diarrhea and/or worse.

I mean, come on. FECES regularly in the water? If I were on our U.S. team, I’d refuse to swim out in such polluted water.

8 years ago

Third world country who’d of guessed!!

Rafael Teixeira
9 years ago

Actually by the news of Pussieldi.. things are Ok on the swimming areas.. the problem is on Guanabara Bay where Sailing will happen..

And I think things will be corrected. Beijing situation was MUCH MUCH worse…

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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