The Associated Press just dropped a bombshell report that finds Rio de Janeiro’s sewage-filled waterways are even worse than previously believed.
AP reports that just nine months before the 2016 Olympics, Rio’s waterways have levels of viruses akin to raw sewage.
Experts told AP that athletes competing in the polluted waterways, where raw sewage often drains right into Guanabara Bay, face “almost certain” health risks.
Athletes have been trying different measures to protect themselves, like bleaching equipment, taking multiple showers, and preemptive antibiotics, as Gawker notes.
AP reports that German Olympic sailor Erik Heil, after contracting MRSA, a flesh-eating bacteria, planned to wear plastic overalls while sailing through the polluted portion of the waterways to the events that take place further offshore.
That plan may be moot now, as AP’s tests found that the water was just as polluted one kilometer from the shore of Guanabara Bay. “The number of viruses found over a kilometer from the shore in Guanabara Bay, where sailors compete at high speeds and get utterly drenched, are equal to those found along shorelines closer to sewage sources,” AP says.
Kristina Mena, an expert in waterborne viruses, told AP, “The levels of viruses are so high in these Brazilian waters that if we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches.”
Mena also said that athletes who swallow three teaspoons of the water have a 99% chance of being infected by viruses.
The Rio 2016 Olympic organising committee released a statement saying:
“The health and safety of athletes is always a top priority and there is no doubt that water within the field of play meets the relevant standards. Rio 2016 follows the expert advice of the World Health Organisation, whose guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments recommend classifying water through a regular program of microbial water quality testing.”
Several athletes have already gotten sick from practicing in the water. In August, 13 U.S. rowers got a stomach illness while practicing in Rio, and a South Korean windsurfer was hospitalized with an illness while practicing.
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