Olympic Concerns With Rio’s Waters

‘Super bacteria’ and fecal matter in Rio de Janeiro's water supply latest concerns as Brazil races to ready itself for 2016 Summer Olympics

Behind the beautiful beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may be home to some not-so-beautiful bacteria in its water supply. And officials are rushing to address the problem before the city hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics.

A “super bacteria” that is resistant to antibiotics has been found in Rio’s water supply. This is in addition to high levels of sewage and trash plaguing the city’s beaches. The dirty water supply has become a setback for Rio de Janeiro as it prepares for the Olympics in June 2016.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the bacteria — from samples taken from the Carioca River — was resistant to treatment. The river floats into the Guanabara Bay, where the summer games’ sailing and surfing events will be held.

Concerns about the water surrounding this picturesque city are not new. The Guanabara Bay has always been a main dumping ground — literally — for its 12 million citizens. Almost 70 percent of this waste is untreated. There is also a stench of fecal matter in the air of some parts of the city, according to reports.

Studies by environmental scientists and a letter from Carlos Francisco Portinho, state environment secretary, to Aldo Rebelo, sports minister, this May said that Rio is not going to meet standards of cleanliness by summer 2016, according to the Associated Press. Only 30 percent of the sewage was treated when the letter was written — and as of now, only 34 percent has been treated.

“Even if the necessary resources to implement sanitation systems … were released, it would not be possible to plan and implement all the projects within a time frame that would make a significant difference in the water quality in Guanabara Bay by the 2016 Olympics,” Portinho said, according to the AP.

Beyond the human waste, there are areas of the bay that are in need of a major cleanup. Pollution ranges from old ships and dead fish to abandoned furniture. This could make events like sailing and surfing almost impossible. As for the fecal matter, according to scientists, it “can cause Hepatitis A, dysentery, cholera [and] other diseases.” This is raising major concerns about athletes’ health. As of now, officials have declared all beaches surrounding the bay unfit for swimming.

While the timeline for the cleanup appears to be lagging for Rio to be ready for South America’s first Summer Games, city leaders are hopeful. In a statement to NBC News, Mayor Eduardo Paes said that “I can guarantee these games will be ready on time. One hundred percent. And I can guarantee you, that this is going to be the greatest legacy in Olympics history.”