Rio Olympic water is badly polluted

In order to compete at the Summer Olympics, the greatest athletes in the world spend years training, practicing and competing, but in Rio de Janeiro many will face a much more putrid obstacle. The waterways in and around Rio are polluted with raw sewage and have the potential to infect rowers, open-water swimmers, sailors and triathletes.

Now these athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to their Olympic dream are faced with a terrible decision: compete and risk illness or miss out on living their dream.

Rio’s waters are full of raw sewage

Like many developing nations, many places in Brazil do not treat or collect its sewage. Without treatment, the sewage flows directly into and contaminates the waterways. As a result, the waters around Rio, like Guanabra Bay, Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon and Copacabana Beach, are rife with pathogens.

Last summer, the AP reported that the waters in Rio had 1.7 million times the amount of disease-causing viruses than would be considered alarming in the U.S. or Europe. Basically, the water is just as dangerous as raw sewage.

Kristina Mena, an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, contends that athletes who ingest three teaspoons of this infected water have a 99 percent chance of getting sick.

Even though Rio was awarded the Olympics with the expectation that sewer sanitation would be improved and the water would be cleaned up, it appears likely that it will still be heavily polluted by the start of the opening ceremonies.

Athletes are taking precautions against contaminated water

After contracting MRSA, a flesh-eating bacteria, during an Olympic test last August, Olympic sailor Erik Heil is thinking about wearing plastic overalls close to shore, where the water is most polluted, this summer. Unfortunately for Heil, this strategy will not work as there are just as many contaminates offshore as on the coast.

Other athletes, who have participated in recent events in Rio, have tried bleaching their rowing oars, rinsing off immediately after competing as well as preemptively taking antibiotics.

Sadly, antibiotics do not protect against viruses and these preventative measures have not stopped athletes from getting sick. 6.7 percent of rowers and 7 percent of sailors, including Heil, fell ill after competing in separate events last summer.

The water quality in Rio is very poor and there’s a very good chance that athletes will get sick during this year’s Olympic Games. It’s unclear whether some athletes will sit out due to health concerns, but one former American Olympian, Mel Stuart, told the AP that Olympians deserve better:

A gold medal is not worth jeopardizing your health. Right now there are too many questions. I don’t see safety. It doesn’t appear at this point that the athletes are being though to first.”

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