Water Contamination Continues to Plague Rio Olympics
Rio De Janeiro is known worldwide as an extremely colorful place. From the exotic tropical birds to the the iconic sidewalks of Copacabana Beach to the flamboyant costumes of Carnival, Rio provides a chromatic feast for the eyes that is unparalleled in the world. Unfortunately, as host of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, Rio has been receiving some global publicity for the odd colors of something else- it’s water.
Unsafe Water Conditions for Olympic Athletes
Within the last year, there have been suspicions that Rio’s water would not be safe for athletic competitions. City officials promised to have the water sanitized in time for the games, but these promises turned out to be a little too optimistic. The shortfall was not for lack of effort, it was really just an insurmountable task to begin with.
Like many fast growing cities in developing nations, Rio De Janeiro only treats a small percentage of the raw sewage it produces. This sewage flows directly into the ocean, via a 14,000 foot (approximately 2.7 mile) long pipe, called a marine outfall. Marine outfalls like this are actually not that unusual, and Rio’s stretches pretty far out to sea comparatively, but the sewage needs better treatment at the source. Rio has built treatment plants to help filter out dangerous pathogens, but they also have to install the pipes to connect to these plants to the rest of the cities infrastructure.
The Challenges to Solving the City’s Water Pollution Problems
Rio has seen haphazard growth in the twentieth century, with densely packed shanties creating extremely narrow roads and passageways in certain areas. Not only is it difficult to lay new pipeline in this kind of environment without causing a lot of destruction, but the crime in these areas has also prevented some municipal workers from entering.
Even in more affluent areas, people simply choose to disobey the law. To avoid the costs associated with doing things the right way, many hotel and condo managers have hooked up sewage drainage lines directly to storm water drains. This again bypasses any potential route through a treatment plant, and dumps raw sewage directly into surrounding bodies of water. Overall about one third of Rio is not properly connected to a proper sanitation system. With Rio’s population currently at about 6.32 million, that is a lot of untreated sewage.
Raw sewage isn’t the only thing contaminating Rio’s waters. Garbage is another big problem. Many areas of the city have irregular or unreliable trash collection, so people resort to throwing their old refrigerators, furniture, and anything else they can’t get rid of into rivers. To combat the problem, authorities have created trash collecting eco-boats to skim the bay, but the boats are tiny and the bay is huge, so it only puts a small dent in the problem.
To top it all off, neighboring municipalities that need to interconnect have different utility companies, different infrastructure needs, and different people holding political office. Sprinkle in an epidemic of corruption and a nationwide economic crisis, and the outlook for resolving these issues expeditiously is looking rather grim. Hopefully the global attention the Olympics have brought will help.
Doctor’s Advice for Surviving the Polluted Water
For now, doctors are advising athletes to not put their heads under water. This approach could prove challenging for a long distance swimmer. According to the Associated Press, water conditions have shown “viral levels at up to 1.7 million times what would be considered worrisome in the United States or Europe. At those concentrations, swimmers and athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water would result in a 99 percent chance of being infected.”
Rios’s water problems have even managed to find their way to the swimming pool. During last night’s synchronized diving competition, spectators were stunned to see the pool turn a mysterious shade of murky green. Some even joked that it was an ode to Brazil’s national flag colors. While officials were unable to offer a definitive answer for what caused the discoloration, they assured competitors that they were at no immediate risk.