An Associated Press investigation has found that the Olympic waters at Rio de Janeiro are equivalent to raw sewage, with human feces levels being chronically high. This health hazard could put athletes at great risk of infection and violent illness. If waters in the United States had similar levels, the plants would be shut down immediately, CBS Los Angeles reported. Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Athletes Will Compete in Waters Infested with Virus and Bacteria Equivalent to Raw Sewage
The waters where athletes will compete are so filled with human feces that they pose a grave risk of causing athletes to become violently ill, The Star Tribune reported. The Associated Press commissioned an investigation that looked at viral and bacterial pathogens in the waters, the first such independent test of the Rio de Janeiro waters. In some places, virus levels were 1.7 million times higher than what would be labeled a hazardous level in Southern California, CBS Los Angeles reported.
The testing covered three Olympic water regions and the water of a popular tourist beach, Ipanema Beach. Thirty-seven samples were taken and none of the venues had safe viral and bacterial levels in its waters, Huffington Post reported. Testing by the AP will continue.
2. Some Athletes Training in Rio de Janeiro Have Already Gotten Sick
Some Olympic competitors are training in Rio de Janeiro and have already gotten sick, CBS Los Angeles reported. Their symptoms have included fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Huffington Post shared a story from Ivan Bulaja, the Austria 49er-class sailing coach, who has already seen some of his athletes get sick. Bulaja said the water quality is the worst he’s ever seen while sailing. In fact, one Austrian sailor said he’s gotten sick several times already. Once sickened, he couldn’t sail for two to three days and said he was concerned that if the timing was wrong, he might get sick and not be able to compete at all.
Experts and competitors are very worried about the results of the investigation because a triathlon qualifier is scheduled to start on Saturday. The 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships is scheduled to start on Wednesday, and more rowing and swimming events will take place later in August.
3. Athletes Have a 99 Percent Chance of Being Infected by Ingesting Just 3 Teaspoons
An expert who studied the Associated Press’s findings determined that it would not take much for an Olympic athlete to become violently ill, The Star Tribune reported. In fact, only three teaspoons of the incredibly infected waters need to be ingested in order to put an athlete at a 99 percent risk of being infected. How many who become infected would then go on to fall ill known because the risk depends on immunity, health, and other factors, Huffington Post reported. More than 10,000 athletes are expected to compete in the Summer Olympics.
The investigation uncovered high levels of rotaviruses and adenoviruses, which can cause both digestive and respiratory illnesses, CBS Los Angeles reported. Less serious symptoms include vomiting and explosive diarrhea, going all the way up to heart and brain diseases.
4. Brazil Officials Say the Water is Safe for Olympic Athletes
Officials in Brazil have insisted that the waters are safe for athletes competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics. However, the Brazilian government doesn’t actually test its waters for viruses, The Star Tribune reported. Instead, officials said they they follow Brazil water quality regulations that are set based on bacteria levels but not virus levels, CBS Los Angeles reported.
A marine biologist, John Griffith, who studied the reports told CBS Los Angeles that waters from toilets, showers, and sinks all go out into the beach water. Natives of Rio de Janeiro can build up antibodies, The Huffington Post reported. But international athletes and tourists won’t have the same immunities built up.
5. Rio de Janeiro is Long Known to Have a Serious Sewage Problem
Water pollution is a known problem in Rio de Janeiro, with the smell of raw sewage being one of the first things people experience upon arriving at the international airport, CBS reported. The problem exists because Rio de Janeiro does not treat most of its sewage. The Olympic water regions are fed by streams and rivers that receive raw waste directly from open-air ditches. Despite insisting the levels are safe, officials in Rio de Janeiro had promised for years that they would clean up the region, CBS reported.