The Olympics’ outdoor swimming venue ‘smells like a toilet’ and could contain dangerous bacteria

Tokyo Bay
  • The Olympics’ outdoor swimming events will take place at Tokyo Bay in less than two weeks.
  • Tokyo Bay had dangerous levels of E. Coli in its water in 2019, and experts say it still might.
  • One athlete even said that the water currently “smells like a toilet.”
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Tokyo Bay will host the swimming portions of the Olympic triathlons, but the water quality could be a problem for the athletes.

One athlete who is competing said the bay “smells like a toilet,” according to Eric Yokoyama of Bloomberg.

The smell in the water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination and harmful E. Coli levels, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The bay has historically contained dangerous levels of E. Coli. In 2019, more than twice the level of E. Coli than what is deemed safe by World Triathlon was found in the water. The swimming portion of that year’s Paratriathalon was canceled.

The poor water quality is because Tokyo doesn’t have separate drainage systems for rainwater and sewage. As a result, rainwater is combined with sewage from 30 million residents and surrounding suburbs and has to be treated before entering the bay.

Tokyo Bay’s salinity is just 1%, and 60% of the water is from inland rivers and Tokyo’s drains.

Tokyo’s local government has tried to remedy the pollution issue over the years with several proposed solutions, including dumping 22,200 cubic meters of sand into the bay, building storage tanks to capture flood runoff.

But those steps might not be enough to make the water safe, according to some scientists.

Yukio Koibuchi, a former associate professor at Tokyo University’s Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, told Bloomberg that the steps “won’t reduce the inflow of E. coli much.”

One triathlon competitor for the Japanese national team says she’s competed in even grosser venues than Tokyo Bay.

“Tokyo Bay is not clean by any means,” Taro Shiraro, a triathlete who’s been competing in races over 30 years, told Bloomberg. “Triathlon games are increasingly held in urban areas. Not many of them are clean.”