IOC to order tests for viruses at Rio's Olympic water venues

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Sewage Viruses in Rio Olympic Water


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- The International Olympic Committee said Sunday it will order testing for disease-causing viruses in the sewage-polluted waters where athletes will compete in next year's Rio de Janeiro Games.

Before, the IOC and local Olympic organizers in Rio said they would only test for bacteria in the water, as Brazil and virtually all nations only mandate such testing to determine the safety of recreational waters.

But after an Associated Press investigation published last week revealed high counts of viruses directly linked to human sewage in the Olympic waters, the IOC reversed course after being advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) that it should expand its testing.

27 PHOTOS
Filthy Rio water a threat at 2016 Olympics
See Gallery
IOC to order tests for viruses at Rio's Olympic water venues
This July 27, 2015 aerial photo shows the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. An Associated Press analysis of water quality found dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues. The Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, which was largely cleaned up in recent years, was thought be safe for rowers and canoers. Yet AP tests found its waters to be among the most polluted for Olympic sites. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this July 12, 2015 photo, a boy walks with his father's catch of the day from the Marina da Gloria, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The head of Rio's Infectious Diseases Society said contaminated waters in beaches and lakes has led to "endemic" public health woes among Brazilians, primarily infectious diarrhea in children. By adolescence, he said, people in Rio have been so exposed to the viruses in the water their bodies build up antibodies. But foreign athletes and tourists won’t have that protection. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
This July 27, 2015 aerial photo shows Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Water quality monitoring was supposed to be beefed up along the city’s picture postcard beaches, including Copacabana, where the marathon swimming competition is to be staged. An Associated Press analysis of the water quality showed the beach waters laden with sewage viruses. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this July 14, 2015 photo, beachgoers wade into the waters of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. An Associated Press analysis of water quality found not one water venue safe for swimming or boating in Rio's waters. Over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries are expected to compete in next year's Summer Olympics. Hundreds of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay; swimming off Copacabana Beach; and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
FILE - In this April 16, 2015 file photo, athletes Diego Nazario, back, and Emanuel Dantas Borges, train in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, surrounded by dead small silvery fish, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio's international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
In this July 15, 2015 photo, sewage spews into the waters of the Marina da Gloria in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated, and much of the raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this April 28, 2015 photo, Fernando Spilki, virologist and coordinator of the environmental quality program at Feevale University, holds up a water sample, backdropped by the Marina da Gloria, Zone 2, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Spilki said the tests he conducted for the Associated Press so far show that Rio's waters "are chronically contaminated." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
This July 27, 2015 aerial photo shows the Alegria Sewage Treatment Plant, located alongside the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Starting in 1993, Japan’s international cooperation agency poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a Guanabara clean-up project. The Inter-American Development bank later issued a $452 million loan for more works. A culture of corruption stymied any progress. For years, none of four sewage treatment plants built with the Japanese money operated at full capacity. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this July 28, 2015 photo, a water canal surrounds housing in the Mare slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated, and much of the raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
In this July 9, 2015 photo, doctoral candidate Rodrigo Staggemeier works to analyze samples collected from the waters of Rio de Janeiro, at the Feevale University in Novo Hamburgo, Brazil. The testing conducted for the Associated Press looked for three different types of human adenovirus that are typical "markers" of human sewage in Brazil. The coordinator of the environmental quality program at the university in southern Brazil, said the tests for the AP so far show that Rio's waters "are chronically contaminated." (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this July 28, 2015 photo, workers remove garbage collected by floating waste barriers in a canal at the Mare slum complex, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio's historic sewage problem spiraled over the past decade as the population exploded with many of the metropolitan area's 12 million residents settling in the vast slums that ring the bay. Waste flows into over 50 streams that empty into the once-crystalline Guanabara Bay. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
FILE - In this June 1, 2015 file photo, a discarded sofa litters the shore of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As part of its Olympic bid, Brazil promised to build eight treatment facilities to filter out much of the sewage and prevent tons of household trash from flowing into the Guanabara Bay. Only one has been built. Tons of household trash line the coastline and form islands of refuse. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)
In this April 28, 2015 photo, Fernando Spilki, the head of the environmental studies program at Feevale University, takes water samples from the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With little to no sewage treatment, Spilki said, "the quantity of fecal matter entering the waterbodies in Brazil is extremely high. Unfortunately, we have levels comparable to some African nations, to India." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this June 5, 2015 photo, fetid water flows out of a storm drain that dumps into the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, where Olympic rowing competitions are slated to be held during the 2016 games, in Rio de Janeiro. Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated, and much of the raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
This July 27, 2015 aerial photo shows fluorescent green waters in the Marapendi Lagoon, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The lagoons that hug the Olympic Park and which the government’s own data shows are among the most polluted waters in Rio were to be dredged, but the project got hung up in bureaucratic hurdles and has yet to start. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this July 13, 2015 photo, backdropped by Sugar Loaf Mountain, a worker sets up a fence in preparation for an Olympic test event, at the Marina da Gloria, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries are expected to compete in next yearís games. Hundreds of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay; swimming off Copacabana beach; and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this July 28, 2015 photo, a boy wades in the beach waters of Flamengo, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio Olympic organizing committee's website states that a key legacy of the games will be 'the rehabilitation and protection of the area's environment, particularly its bays and canals" in areas where water sports will take place. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this April 28, 2015 photo, Fernando Spilki, the head of the environmental studies program at Feevale University, holds up water samples taken from the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Spilki's testing looked for three different types of human adenovirus that are typical "markers" of human sewage in Brazil. In addition, he tested for enteroviruses, the most common cause of upper respiratory tract infections in the young. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
This July 27, 2015 aerial photo, shows Marina da Gloria in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Construction is underway on a project to cap a pipe that long spewed raw sewage into the marina, the starting place for the Olympic sailing events. Yet Associated Press testing of the marina's water quality found it laden with sewage viruses. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
FILE - In this May 20, 2015 file photo, Nawal El Moutawakel, head of the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission, right, watches Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes speak during the inauguration of the Olympic Rings at the Madureira Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Paes has said it's a "shame" the Olympic promises wouldn't be met, adding the games are proving "a wasted opportunity," as far as the waterways are concerned. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
In this July 16, 2015 photo, members of Austria's Olympic sailing team train in the Rio de Janeiro municipality Niteroi, Brazil. "This is by far the worst water quality we've ever seen in our sailing careers," said Austria's coach Ivan Bulaja. The Austrian sailors take precautions, washing their faces immediately with bottled water when they get splashed by waves and showering the minute they return to shore. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
In this July 16, 2015 photo, Ivan Bulaja, coach of the Austrian 49er-class sailing team, speaks during an interview, in the Rio de Janeiro municipality Niteroi, Brazil. The Croatian-born coach said his sailors have lost valuable training days while in Brazil after falling ill with vomiting and diarrhea. "This is by far the worst water quality we’ve ever seen in our sailing careers," said Bulaja, whose team has been sailing in Guanabara Bay, where their competition will take place. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
In this July 13, 2015 photo, athletes practice rowing on a deck in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries are expected to compete in next year's Olympics games. Nearly 1,400 of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay; swimming off Copacabana Beach; and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this Nov. 7, 2015 photo, a bird carcass lies on the shore of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio won the right to host the 2016 Olympics based on its bid that promised to clean up the city's waterways by improving sewage sanitation, a pledge that meant to be one of the event's biggest legacies. Brazilian officials now acknowledge that won't happen. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this Nov. 5, 2015 photo, workers remove garbage collected by floating waste barriers in the Meriti River, which flows into Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A new round of testing by The Associated Press shows the cityâs Olympic waterways are as rife with pathogens far offshore as they are nearer land, where raw sewage flows into them from fetid rivers and storm drains. . (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
In this Nov. 5, 2015 photo, trash collects against floating waste barriers in the Meriti River, which flows into the Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rioâs waterways, like those of many developing nations, are extremely contaminated because most of the cityâs sewage is not treated, let alone collected. Massive amounts of it flow straight into Guanabara Bay. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

"The WHO is saying they are recommending viral testing," IOC medical director Dr. Richard Budgett told the AP. "We've always said we will follow the expert advice, so we will now be asking the appropriate authorities in Rio to follow the expert advice which is for viral testing. We have to follow the best expert advice."

On Saturday, the International Sailing Federation became the first to break with the IOC's insistence on bacteria-only testing, saying it would do its own independent tests for viruses.

"We're going to find someone who can do the testing for us that can safely cover what we need to know from a virus perspective as well as the bacteria perspective," said Peter Sowrey, chief executive of the ISAF. "That's my plan."

That came after the WHO told the AP on Saturday that it had advised the IOC to test for viruses.

A five-month AP analysis of water at each of the venues where about 1,400 Olympic athletes will have contact with water showed dangerously high levels of viruses from sewage.

The AP commissioned four rounds of testing in each of those three Olympic water venues, and also in the surf off Ipanema Beach, which is popular with tourists but where no events will be held. Thirty-seven samples were checked for three types of human adenovirus, as well as rotavirus, enterovirus and fecal coliforms.

The AP viral testing, which will continue in the coming year, found not one water venue safe for swimming or boating, according to global water experts who analyzed the AP data. A risk assessment done based on the AP's study found that athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water have a 99 percent chance of being infected by a virus - though that does not automatically mean they would fall ill. That depends upon a person's immune system and a number of other factors.

The concentrations of the viruses in all AP samples were roughly equivalent to that seen in raw sewage - even at one of the least-polluted areas tested, Copacabana Beach, where marathon and triathlon swimming will take place and where many of the expected 350,000 foreign tourists may take a dip.

In Rio, much of sewage goes untreated and runs down hillside ditches and streams into Olympic water venues that are littered with floating rubbish, household waste, and even dead animals.

The pollution problem has been around for decades, and has sparked what top medical experts in Rio call an endemic public health crisis because of the dirty water in this otherwise stunningly gorgeous city circled by Atlantic rainforest and golden sand beaches.

On Sunday, athletes competed under a blazing Rio sun in an Olympic test event in the triathlon.

"It's been an interesting learning experience over the last few days. I think some athletes went back to Biology 101 to learn the difference between bacteria and viruses," said American triathlete Sarah True, who has qualified for next year's Olympics. "It's kind of eye-opening for me that people didn't differentiate the two."

She said that for the athletes, "obvioulsy it's a concern. it's a risk" but that "ultimately the Olympic dream is so strong that sometimes we put the pursuit of excellence above our health."

True said she didn't think the Olympic venue could be moved from Copacabana even if the IOC's tests also find high viral counts.

"We can't move," she said. "Ultimately too much money has been invested."

So far, neither the IOC nor the sailing federation has said who would do their testing. Virology experts in Brazil say there are only three or four labs with the molecular biology equipment and trained scientists who can carry out the testing for viruses in water.

The AP's tests are being conducted by Fernando Spilki, a respected virologist who is a board member of the Brazilian Society for Virology and editor of its scientific journal. He is not being paid by the AP to conduct the testing, though the AP is purchasing the lab materials required to carry out the research.

When Rio was awarded the Olympics in 2009, it promised cleaning its waters would be an Olympic legacy. But Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has repeatedly acknowledged this will not be done, calling it a "lost opportunity."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners