By Lisa Flueckiger, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The controversy over the pollution of the sea and lagoon in Rio de Janeiro, which host several water sports competitions at the 2016 Olympic Games, continues with new data collected by Associated Press. The samples taken in the new test show heavy pollution of the city’s waters with bacteria and viruses causing several diseases.
Associated Press ordered a test of Rio’s waters after allegations of pollution at Guanabara Bay, the site for the Olympic windsurfing and sailing competitions, and the Lagoa, where the rowing competition will take place, continued to make rounds in international media.
AP tested 37 samples of the waters at the Bay, the Lagoa, Copacabana beach where the triathletes will swim, and popular beach Ipanema. They searched for human adenovirus, rotavirus, enterovirus and fecal coliform bacteria.
Especially, high levels of human adenovirus were found in the samples, a virus known to cause intestinal and respiratory diseases including acute vomiting and diarrhea, as well as in rare cases heart and brain diseases. The levels of pollution was so high that the waters were classified as ‘pure sewage’.
An American specialist in water viruses and its risks examined the AP data and estimated that athletes had a 99 percent chance of infection after taking in three spoons of the water at all four locations, according to a report by G1.
The Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon had the highest pollution with results ranging from 14 million adenoviruses per liter to 1.7 billion per liter. In comparison, in California experts are alarmed if levels of the virus reach 1,000 per liter.
“The amount of fecal matter entering the waters in Brazil is extremely high. Unfortunately, we have levels comparable to some African nations, to India,” virologist Fernando Spilki, who carried the AP tests out, said.
“What we have here is basically pure sewage,” marine biologist John Griffith of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project said to G1. “It is water from toilets, showers and what people throw in the sink, all mixed up, that goes into the water at the beaches. This would be restricted immediately if it were found here [in California].”
The Brazilian authorities confirmed that they are monitoring the virus development in the waters in Rio. However, Leonardo Daemon, manager of water quality at INEA, continued to claim that the waters are in line with Brazilian standards of water pollution, which are also based on bacteria levels.
“What is the level that should be followed regarding the quantity of the virus? Because the presence or absence of viruses in the water [is not relevant]… we need a standard, a limit. [Right now] we don’t have a standard, a standard that shows the amount of virus in relation to human health, in contact with water.”
Several sailing athletes have already reported sickness after training at Guanabara Bay. “I had fever and stomach problems. It’s always one full day in bed and then another two or three days without sailing,” Austrian sailor David Hussl reported.
“This is by far the worst quality of water that we have seen throughout our career in sailing,” Ivan Bulaja, coach of the Austrian 49er sailing team, added.
Brazilians were said to have mostly developed an immunity towards the viruses as they were exposed to them throughout their childhood, according to a doctor from UFRJ University Hospital Clementino Fraga Filho, as Rio de Janeiro has a historic problem with its waste water treatment. The problem intensified over the last decades with the increase of the population.
And even though several projects were planned to treat the waste water entering Guanabara Bay, most were delayed or never completed due to mismanagement. A facility in Duque de Caxias has not treated a single drop of waste water between its construction in 2000 and its inauguration in 2014.
The cleanup of Guanabara Bay was part of the Olympic bid of Rio de Janeiro with a project of eight treatment facilities at the rivers that enter the bay. However, authorities have already admitted that the goal of an eighty percent cleaning will not be met.