Friday, 29 July 2016

Water contamination could spell trouble at the Rio Olympics

Between the high levels of pollution, overcrowded favelas and the Zika Virus running rampant, Rio’s health concerns seem to be going from bad to worse. Now, with Olympic preparations shining a light on the South American city, issues seem to be piling up by the day. Many competitors have already dropped out of the games in order to protect their health, and now another massive issue has been brought to the forefront – water contamination.

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We’re not talking about the occasional tin can being thrown into the bay either; Rio’s beaches and waterways contain deadly bacteria, viruses, human waste and even a few dead bodies. That’s the same water where athletes will swim, surf and sail their way to Olympic glory.

Competitors have been warned to “keep their mouth shut” while in or on the water, as they will “literally be swimming in human crap”, according to local paediatrician Dr Daniel Becker. The problem is in large part due to the fact that much of Rio’s sewage and trash is dumped, untreated, directly into the water, where it is left to fester. This in turn has led to the growth of ‘superbacteria’, which pose a significant risk to anyone with a weakened immune system.

It’s not just sewage and human waste that flows through the waters of Rio; countless factories pump waste and by-products into Guanabara Bay, and oil tankers flush their holds. The damage to the local ecosystem is already apparent.

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Cleaning out the bays, beaches and waterways was, in fact, a major factor in Rio’s bid to host the Olympic Games. Officials pledged $4 billion (USD) to be spent on tackling the city’s filthy waters, but reports suggest that only around $170 million was actually spent, with government officials citing a budget crisis.

Athletes training in the area, although justifiably unhappy with the conditions, have said that on the whole they’re happy with the improvements they’re starting to see. Government officials insist that both Guanabara Bay and Copacabana Beach, the venues for swimming, sailing, windsurfing and triathlon events, now meet World Health Organisation standards but still require some additional work. Hopefully said work is completed before the opening ceremony.

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