Olympic athletes will be competing in polluted and virus-laden waters this August.
The 2016 Summer Olympic games will be held in Rio de Janeiro. The water where some of the Olympic competition will be held has been found to be highly polluted and may pose health risks to competing athletes.
“I know some people that will go to Rio that are worried because they are lightweight, they are more vulnerable than the other athletes,” said Federica Pala, a freshman on the Florida Tech women’s rowing team.
The Associated Press did two rounds of independent testing last year on the water quality in areas where competitions will be held.
According to the AP’s first report in July, the amount of viruses linked to human sewage found in the water of Guanabara Bay was up to 1.7 million times higher than what would be considered dangerous according to standards in the U.S. or Europe.
The current global standards of water quality control test only for bacterial “markers” that indicate how safe or polluted the water is. This is the standard being followed in Brazil, despite the fact that it is viral levels which are dangerously high, not bacterial ones.
Rowing, canoeing and sailing events as well as marathon and triathlon swims will take place in the virus-infected waters. Ipanema Beach, where many of the spectators will be swimming, was also found to be polluted by AP’s testing.
Kristina Mena, an expert in waterborne viruses at the University of Texas said in the AP’s report that if an athlete ingests just three teaspoons of water out of the bay there is a 99 percent chance that they will get sick.
Pala said the risk is worth it, especially if it is a once in a lifetime chance.
“I think we take risks every day during practice,” Pala said. “The training is hard and there’s lots of variables also on the water with other boats, so you take risks every day.”
Kevin Coyle, a junior on the Florida Tech men’s rowing team, said he wouldn’t turn down the opportunity either.
“It’s the Olympics. If you make the team, done all the work that year, all the training, all the money spent, all the time, you go,” said Coyle. “But when it comes down to it, conditions are conditions. Bad water, it could be weather. There are certain health conditions you have to watch out for, but I would definitely still go.”
Erik Heil, a German sailor, wrote on his team’s blog that the MRSA infection he got after competing in Olympic test events last August was caused by the polluted water. He had to undergo treatment which he said included having the infection painfully scraped off his hips and legs.
Other viruses found in the water cause symptoms such as vomiting, explosive diarrhea and respiratory ailments.
Alexandra Koenig, a junior biology major, said that maybe Olympic officials could have all the participants wear protective goggles or other gear to protect the eyes and mouth and other opening where bacteria could get in.
When Rio made its bid in 2009 to host the 2016 games, officials promised to clean up the city’s waterways by investing in better sewage treatment. In a statement made last year, Brazilian officials acknowledged that the improvements were not going to happen.
Brian Ikenze Atabansi, a senior in information systems from Nigeria, voiced concerns for not just the athletes, but also the quality of life of the people living where the Olympic games take place.
“If you’re not funding or finding a better way to better the lives of the people when you’re going to have events in their backyard, than I don’t see a reason why you should be there in the first place,” said Atabansi. “If you, as an organization, are going to benefit from whatever is going on in that country, it is your obligation to do something to better the lives of people that you’re going to gain revenue from.”