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.”