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Rio's Olympic Waters 'Widely Contaminated'

  • VOA News

FILE - Trash litters Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Nov. 10, 2015.

FILE - Trash litters Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Nov. 10, 2015.

New test results show that waters where athletes will compete in next year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics are more widely contaminated than previously known, threatening the health of athletes competing in the games.

A study of Rio's waterways commissioned by The Associated Press shows high levels of virus contamination and, in some cases, bacterial counts both on shorelines, where raw sewage runs into open water near the city's famed beaches on the Atlantic coast, as well as in offshore waters where Olympic sailing, rowing and canoeing competition will take place.

Pollution caused by untreated sewage is not being diluted in the bays and lagoons that are sites for Olympic events, the AP said.

"People who come into contact with those waters" will be exposed to the contamination, said Kristina Mena, a U.S. expert on waterborne viruses.

"If we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches," she told the AP.

As in many developing countries, most of Rio de Janeiro's sewage is untreated before it is pumped out to sea.

Previous tests run for the AP showed the potential health impact on athletes competing in Rio would include stomach and respiratory illnesses and, more rarely, heart and brain inflammation.

Sports officials pledged they would do their own viral testing of Rio's waters, but Olympic and World Health Organization officials have delayed carrying out those promises, according to the AP.