RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazilian environmentalist and biologist Mario Moscatelli says sewage has killed at least a ton of fish in a lagoon next to the Olympic Park that will host many Rio 2016 events.
Moscatelli said Saturday that thousands of tilapia, sea bass and mullets started washing up Friday on the shore of Rio de Janeiro's Jacarepagua Lagoon. He said the die-off could be repeated during next year's games.
"The lagoon is not one of the Olympic water venues but it does embrace the Olympic Park," Moscatelli said.
He said the fish most likely died because of insufficient oxygen due to pollutants and untreated human waste flowing into the lagoon from nearby condominiums and sprawling shantytowns.
Athletes in next year's Summer Olympics 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 found recently.
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An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.
It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.
Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.
Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites.
As a result, 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.
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.
"What you have there is basically raw sewage," said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology and results of the AP tests.
"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," he said.
More than 10,000 athletes from 205 nations are expected to compete in next year's Olympics. 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.
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.