Sports

Rio Olympics: Government rules water 'unfit' for swimming

The Brazilian government's most recent data on water pollution in Rio de Janeiro show that water near where triathletes are preparing to compete this weekend is "unfit" for swimming.

Copacabana beach pollution reading based on fecal bacteria levels in water

Workers in Brazil clean up the debris-filled shoreline on Copacabana beach. (Google Images)

The Brazilian government's most recent data on water pollution in Rio de Janeiro show that water near where triathletes are preparing to compete this weekend is "unfit" for swimming.

The designation, based on fecal bacteria levels, is available on the website of the Rio de Janeiro environmental agency.

The most recent pollution reading at Copacabana Beach was taken from a sample this past Monday. An Olympic qualifier and Paratriathlon event begin Saturday, and several athletes were already getting into the water Friday morning.

The Rio environmental agency didn't respond to requests for comment about whether they have carried out more recent testing this week, or whether event organizers were notified about the designation.

On Thursday, The Associated Press released the results of a five-month investigation into Rio's waters. It showed that Olympic venues are rife with disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

The AP study showed that the spot where athletes were entering the water on Copacabana Beach on Friday had a minimal reading of over 2 million human adenovirus per liter — that's 2,000 times the reading that water experts in the U.S. say would be considering highly alarming if seen on beaches in the U.S. or Europe.

Human adenovirus multiply in the intestinal and respiratory tracts of people. These are viruses that are known to cause respiratory and digestive illnesses, including explosive diarrhea and vomiting, but can also lead to more serious heart, brain and other diseases.

The Rio de Janeiro state government and the state environmental agency in press releases blasted the AP report on Thursday as being alarmist and said it was unfair to judge Rio's waters based on viral counts, limits of which are not designated in Brazilian legislation, nor in that of the U.S. or the EU.

But the area that was ruled unfit by the Rio environmental agency for swimming earlier this week was based levels of fecal coliforms, which are single-celled organisms that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Fecal coliforms can suggest the presence of cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid.

The site ruled unfit for swimming has also been labeled as off limits on at least eight previous occasions this year.

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