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Olympic Committee to Test Rio's Water for Viruses

Dead fish are pictured next to a rowing athlete as he puts his boat on the water before a training session at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 13, 2015.

Dead fish are pictured next to a rowing athlete as he puts his boat on the water before a training session at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 13, 2015.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is busy preparing for the 2016 Olympics. On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said it will begin testing the waters where swimmers and other athletes will compete at the Rio Games. The IOC said its scientists will be looking for disease-causing viruses.

Earlier, the IOC and Olympic organizers in Rio said they would only test for bacteria in the water. Brazil and most other countries only require bacteria testing to establish the safety of recreational waters.

But an Associated Press investigation found high numbers of viruses linked to human waste in the Olympic waters. Now, the IOC will act on the advice of the World Health Organization and expand its tests to include viruses.

Dr. Richard Budgett is the IOC’s medical director.

He told the news agency, "The WHO is saying they are recommending viral testing. 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.''

Last week, the International Sailing Federation said it would perform its own independent tests for viruses. Peter Sowrey is head of the federation. He said, “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.”

High levels of viruses from sewage

The Associated Press said its research team tested water at each of the three Olympic water sport venues over a five-month period. Thirty-seven water samples were tested for six kinds of viruses and human waste bacteria.

The AP said it found that about 1,400 Olympic athletes will have contact with water having dangerously high levels of viruses from wastes. Water experts say the AP viral testing did not find one area safe for Olympic swimming or boating events.

The AP study found that athletes who drink just a small amount of water have a 99 percent chance of being infected by a virus. But that does not mean the athletes would become sick. The body’s natural defenses against disease and other things can influence whether or not the person gets sick.

In Rio de Janeiro, much of the human waste goes untreated. Sewage runs down hills and waterways around Olympic water venues. The waters are filled with floating objects, household trash and even dead animals.

The pollution problem has been around for many years. Medical experts in Rio have called the dirty water, a public health crisis.

Neither the IOC nor the International Sailing Federation has yet said who would carry out their tests. Experts in Brazil say there are only three or four laboratories with the right equipment and trained scientists who can test for viruses in water.

Fernando Spilki is testing the waters for the Associated Press. He is a board member of the Brazilian Society for Virology. He is not receiving more from the AP to conduct the testing. But the news agency is buying the lab materials required to carry out the investigation.

When Rio was awarded the Olympics in 2009, Brazilian officials promised cleaning its waters would be an Olympic legacy. But Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has repeatedly said this will not be done. In his words, it is a "lost opportunity.''

I’m Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press news agency reported this story. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

legacy n. something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

perspective n. a way of thinking about and understanding something such as a particular issue or life in general

recreational – adj. done for enjoyment

recommend – v. to say that (someone or something) is good and deserves to be chosen

appropriate – adj right or suited for some purpose or situation

authorities – n. people who have power to make decisions and enforce rules and laws

sewage – n. waste material (such as human urine and feces) that is carried away from homes and other buildings in a system of pipes

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