News Releases

Brazil has failed to fulfill 2009 pledge in bid to host games to collect and treat 80% of their sewage water 

June report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs shows recreational water to be used by athletes remains significantly contaminated 

16 athletes from Washington state and 555 from the U.S. will be competing in Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, called on the President of the International Olympic Committee to immediately ramp up efforts with the Government of Brazil to take critical precautions to protect the health and well-being of athletes from Washington state and around the country, and athletes and spectators from around the world. With opening day of the Olympics on August 5th fast approaching, Senator Murray urged in her letter continued education of possible health risks and expedited de-contamination of recreational water sites. Despite Brazil’s pledge in 2009 to collect and treat 80% of their sewage water before hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games, an independent sampling of the water by the Associated Press (AP) in 2015 and a June report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs showed the recreational water to be used by athletes remains significantly contaminated.

"As athletes from around the world give their all in water sports to inspire children and families and make their communities proud, the last thing they should have to worry about is contamination that could jeopardize their health," Senator Murray said in the letter. "I strongly urge you to ramp up efforts with the Government of Brazil to take the necessary, critical precautions to protect the health and well-being of the 555 members of the U.S. Olympic Team, 16 from my home state of Washington, and Olympic athletes and spectators from all over the world through education and expedited de-contamination of the water sites." 

Multiple assessments of the recreational water in Brazil have revealed that the water quality is not safe for consumption and is contaminated with both harmful bacteria and viruses. The AP’s independent investigation into the water quality in 2015 found that viruses from human sewage were at levels “up to 1.7 million times what would be considered highly alarming in US or Europe.” Exposure to contaminated water through breathing it in or consuming it can result in a number of negative health outcomes, including gastrointestinal and respiratory illness, which could seriously affect athletes’ abilities’ to perform at their best after years of training and preparation. In her letter, Senator Murray urged continued education about the risks associated with waterborne illnesses, assessments of the Olympic water sites on a regular basis, and that all athletes receive the recommended vaccinations.

The United States Olympic Committee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are providing key resources to Olympic and Paralympic athletes to educate them about the threat posed by pathogens in Brazil, including the Zika virus. Earlier this year, Senators wrote the United States Olympic Committee about the Zika virus at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The United States Olympic Committee’s response is available HERE.

Senator Murray is a strong supporter of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Teams. The United States Olympic Committee, which is an independent organization, is responsible for selecting and sending teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, supporting the growth of sport in the United States, and supervising the selection of potential Games bid cities within the United States.

 

The text of the full letter is below:

July 28, 2016

 

Mr. Thomas Bach

President

The International Olympic Committee

Chateau de Vidy
Case Postale 356
1001 Lausanne
Switzerland

Dear Mr. Bach,

More than 10,000 athletes will soon compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Nearly 1,400 of those athletes will participate in a water sport, including triathletes, swimmers, sailors, canoers, and rowers. In Brazil’s 2009 bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the 2016 summer games, the country pledged to collect and treat 80 percent of their sewage water to ensure minimal contamination in the recreational water sites. According to independent sampling of the water by the Associated Press (AP) and a June report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the recreational water to be used by athletes remains significantly contaminated.  Exposure to contaminated water through breathing it in or consuming it can result in a number of negative health outcomes, including gastrointestinal and respiratory illness. As athletes from around the world give their all in water sports to inspire children and families and make their communities proud, the last thing they should have to worry about is contamination that could jeopardize their health. I strongly urge you to ramp up efforts with the Government of Brazil to take the necessary, critical precautions to protect the health and well-being of the 555 members of the U.S. Olympic Team, 16 from my home state of Washington, and Olympic athletes and spectators from all over the world through education and expedited de-contamination of the water sites.

As you know, the U.S. Olympic Committee is independent and not an agency of the United States government, and I am not writing to you at the request of the U.S. Olympic Committee. However, as the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I have oversight responsibility over public health. As such, I am deeply concerned about the dangerous levels of water contamination in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic arenas.

Multiple assessments of the recreational water in Brazil have revealed that the water quality is not safe for consumption and is contaminated with both harmful bacteria and viruses. The AP’s independent investigation into the water quality in 2015 found that viruses from human sewage were at levels “up to 1.7 million times what would be considered highly alarming in US or Europe.” More recently, two unpublished academic studies have reported the presence of the “super bacteria” Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) off the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, where Olympic water events will take place.[1]  The presence of this bacteria is thought to be a result of illegal dumping of hospital waste or an overabundance of human sewage in the water.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this super bacteria can cause meningitis and pulmonary, bloodstream, urinary and GI infections.[2]  As athletes and spectators are exposed to the water and become ill, this bacteria could be introduced into the hospital and healthcare settings around Rio.

As we near opening day, I urge you to continue to educate athletes and spectators and communicate the risks associated with exposure to the water, including signs and symptoms of possible waterborne illness. In addition, I encourage you to assess the Olympic water sites on a regular basis through a combination of sanitary inspections to determine possible sources of pollution, as well as microbial water quality testing in accordance with the World Health Organization’s guidance. Lastly, it is critical that all athletes receive the recommended vaccinations that are advised for all travelers to Brazil, as a number of the vaccines, including typhoid and hepatitis A, will also reduce risks of illness from exposure to poor recreational water quality.

The Olympics are a prestigious event that will garner world-wide attention.  It’s important that our athletes from Washington state, the United States, and around the world can compete in as safe and healthy an environment as possible.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray 

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[1] Sigrid, J. (June 15, 2016). Super bacteria in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic arenas. Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Available at: http://www.coha.org/super-bacteria-in-rio-de-janeiros-olympic-arenas/

[2] Ibid.