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Sailing official wants Rio water pollution tests

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm •  Published: May 19, 2014
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Sailing's governing body may conduct independent water-quality tests in Rio de Janeiro's polluted Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue for the 2016 Olympics and the site of Rio's first test event in 2½ months.

Any hope Brazil would be able to clean up the sewage-filled bay soon was quashed in a document obtained by The Associated Press over the weekend.

In a May 7 letter to sports minister Aldo Rebelo, Rio's state environment secretary Carlos Francisco Portinho acknowledged in a best-case scenario that pollution flowing into the bay could be cut to "over 50 percent" — well below the promised reduction of 80 percent.

Alastair Fox, head of competitions for the international sailing federation, told the AP the body is likely to test on its own, hoping to allay athletes' health concerns.

The tests could also push Rio organizers to move more quickly on the problem.

Fox said he hoped the International Olympic Committee would do independent testing, although the IOC indicated it had no such plans.

"If the IOC are not conducting water-quality tests, then I think it is very likely the ISAF will," Fox said Monday in an email. "Certainly compared to most sailing venues, the water quality is very, very bad."

Danish Olympian Allan Norregaard, a bronze medalist at the 2012 Olympics, said Guanabara was "the most polluted place I've ever been." Other sailors interviewed called it an "open sewer."

The bay and similar concerns about Rio's iconic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches add to the disarray plaguing South America's first Olympics.

The IOC has sent a special troubleshooter to monitor progress, and last month IOC vice president John Coates said Rio's preparations were the "worst" in memory.

Spending on Rio has reached $17 billion and is expected to rise.

Nearly 70 percent of Rio's sewage goes untreated into its waters. Exposure to fecal matter can cause hepatitis A, dysentery, cholera and other diseases.

The visible problem involves old couches, tires and dead animals floating in the 148-square mile (383-square kilometer) bay. State officials are using garbage boats to collect floating debris, with the detritus weaving giant blankets of human and industrial waste along noxious shorelines.

"If someone picks up a bag, or hits a sofa or something like that, then clearly that is going to affect them in the race," Fox said.

"We've seen numbers from teams of the fecal content in the Guanabara Bay, which clearly are not safe," Fox added. "For us, that's a matter of concern. We've been assured again by the organizers that they are doing everything they can."

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