Experts on Rio Olympics 2016: “Don t put your head under water”

Russia's track and field team have been banned from the Rio 2016 Olympics



The Rio 2016 Olympics has become one of the most dangerous places to be health wise, from the unsuitable living quarters, to the Zika-infested mosquitos, the dirty toxic air and now athletes and tourists face another threat: contaminated water.

The Associated Press has released a 16-month-long study that describes Rio de Janeiro’s waterways to be absolutely filthy, with dangerous viruses, bacteria and raw human sewage contaminating it.

According to the tests, some of Rio’s most popular beaches such as Ipanema and Copacabana offer some serious health risks for tourists as do the aquatic Olympic and Paralympic venues because of the immense pollution that can be found in the water, with the most contaminated areas being the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and the Gloria Marina, which will be the place of the Olympic rowing and Olympic sailing races

Since the study was released last July, athletes-according to The Guardian-have been taking precautions to prevent getting ill, taking antibiotics, bleaching oars and donning plastic suits and gloves to limit their contact with the contaminated water but antibiotics can only protect you from bacterial infections, not viruses and that’s what athletes and tourists alike are at risk of contacting.

“Don’t put your head under water,” is the advice Dr. Valerie Haywood, a biomedical expert from the department of integrative biology at the University of South Florida has given tourists planning to travel to Rio but that’s easier said than done for the Olympic swimmers who will be ingesting water through their noses and mouths as they compete, risking their health all in the sake for a medal.

As the AP study reported, 1.7m viral levels were discovered in the water over a year ago. As the study reports, this means that “swimmers and athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water are almost certain to be infected with viruses that can cause stomach and respiratory illnesses and more rarely heart and brain inflammation- although whether they actually fall ill depends on a series of factors including the strength of the individual’s immune system.”

In addition, the investigation conducted by the AP concluded that over a 16 month testing period about 90 percent of sites were found to have infectious adenoviruses which is extremely high and pretty much unheard of in the U.S, according to Harwood.

“Seeing that level of human pathogenic virus is pretty much unheard of in surface waters in the U.S. You would never, ever see these levels because we treat our waste water. You just would not see this,” Harwood said to the Guardian.

According to Rik Rasmussen, the manager of surface water quality standards at California’s State Water Board, even though the polluted beaches have violated the Rio’s own threshold standards, which doesn’t consider a beach unfit unless the tests shows the results to be 2,500 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters-more than six times higher of California’s limit- the locals immune system is better adapted to combat the viruses and protect them from falling ill.

As CBSNews reports, the “locals are regularly exposed to the pathogens lurking in raw waste from an early age” due to sewage pollution being an extensively long going problem, therefore the locals have built up immunities to them unlike the tourists.

Rio has been promising since its 2009 Olympic bid document that the games would “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways” and that a million-dollar investment for cleanup programs would happen for the games but it’s clearly failed to live up to those promises, according to biologist Mario Moscatelli who has been flying in a helicopter over Rio on a monthly basis for the past 20 years and has been a prominent activist in the fight to clean up Rio’s water.

“It’s been decades and I see no improvement,” Moscatelli said to CBSNews. “The Guanabara Bay has been transformed into a latrine…and unfortunately Rio de Janeiro missed the opportunity, maybe the last big opportunity,” to clean its waters.

Nonetheless, officials continue to say that the waters will be safe for athletes and visitors even as The Associated Press reports that “[r]ivers are tar-black; the lagoons near the Olympic Park bloom with fluorescent green algae that thrives amid sewage; fishermen’s wooden boats sick into thick sludge in the Guanabara Bay; surfers paddle amid a giant brown stain that contrasts with the azure of the surrounding waters.”

“We would never, ever risk the health or the condition of any athlete for a competition,” Mario Andrada, the chief spokesman for the local Olympic organizing committee said to The Associated Press. “So the health of the athletes is our first priority. And the athletes don’t run a risk sailing in Guanabara Bay.”



Michelle Marchante is a guest contributor at The Buzz Insider and the Assistant Opinion Director at FIUSM. She is a writer, reader and filmmaking enthusiast. Currently, she is studying to get her degree in Broadcast Journalism and is also working on her second novel. Connect with her on Twitter @TweetMichelleM




Image retrieved from Flickr.

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