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AP Investigation Reveals Olympic Athletes Will Swim in 'Raw Sewage' in Rio Waterways
Olympic athletes are gearing up for the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but a recent AP investigation revealed some startling news: "Athletes in next year's Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found."
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) May 5, 2015
The investigation into the water quality in Olympic and Paralympic venues found "dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage."
"Much of the sewage in Rio, a city of 12 million, goes untreated and garbage pickup is spotty, so tons of raw sewage and trash flow into Guanabara Bay, as well as the city's lakes, lagoons and even its celebrated beaches," says Mashable.
Many officials are obviously concerned about the safety of the athletes, many of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the AP. The investigation is the first to look for both bacteria and viruses present in the water. Brazilian officials and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee claim that the water is on track to be safe for the competitors, but neither Brazil nor the Olympic Committee test for viruses, only bacteria.
"Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach," according to the AP investigation.
"What you have there is basically raw sewage," John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, told the AP. "It's all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it's going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here," he said, referring to the U.S.
Ten thousand athletes from 205 countries are expected to compete in the Olympics, but it's not as if officials have a year to address the issue. Olympic hopefuls will be competing in qualifying events this Sunday with more events later in August. And, according to the AP, it doesn't just affect swimmers—"Athletes in sailing, canoeing and to a lesser degree rowing often get drenched when competing, and breathe in mist as well."
"The test results found high counts of active and infectious human adenoviruses, which multiply in the intestinal and respiratory tracts of people," according to the AP investigation. "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."
"Everybody runs the risk of infection in these polluted waters," Dr. Carlos Terra, a Rio-based doctor, told the AP.
"If I were going to be in the Olympics," said Griffith, "I would probably go early and get exposed and build up my immunity system to these viruses before I had to compete, because I don't see how they're going to solve this sewage problem."
— DiplyNews (@DiplyNews) July 30, 2015
Government officials have jumped into the water where athletes will be competing to show that it is perfectly safe. The problem is that foreigners will not have the built up immunity to these bacteria and viruses. Ivan Bulaja, the Croatian-born coach of Austria's 49er-class sailing team, can confirm that. "This is by far the worst water quality we've ever seen in our sailing careers," Bulaja told the AP. Several members of his team have been out for multiple days after falling ill with vomiting and diarrhea.
The problem has been well known for years. The New York Times highlighted Rio's awful water quality last year. And the issue dates back even further. Rio's waste management crisis has spiraled out of control with the city's rampant population growth in recent decades. Despite the Brazilian government's promise to improve the city's waterways ahead of the games through a $4 billion government expansion of basic sanitation infrastructure, there is "very little to show for it," reports the AP.
"Brazilian authorities promised the moon in order to win their Olympic bid and as usual they're not making good on those promises," Mario Moscatelli, a biologist who has spent 20 years lobbying for a cleanup of Rio's waterways, told the AP. "I'm sad but not surprised."
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes told the AP the Olympic games have been "a wasted opportunity" as far as efforts to clean up the waterways are concerned.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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