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The Olympic Games Go On… But at What Cost?

The Olympics are on! The Olympics are on!

It’s that time again, and the Internet is abuzz with talk of the Simones and their gold medals (one, a household name — the other, a stunning upset), Michael and his… Well, we’ve lost count of how many gold medals Michael Phelps has to hang on his wall these days.

The point is, everyone’s talking about the Olympics. And so are we. But maybe we’re looking at things a little differently. While you’re watching Kerri and April crush it on the beach, we’re more than a little concerned about the nasty bacteria they and others might contract.

The beaches of Rio are contaminated with bacteria and viruses.

It’s true. And in fact, the concern is so dire that the World Health Organization has specifically warned athletes who will compete in open water sports to not, under any circumstances swallow the water; to cover any open wounds during competition; and to take special care to wash or bathe themselves immediately after exiting the water.

Before the start of the Games, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser traveled to Brazil with local scientist Mario Moscatelli, where they took samples in an attempt to uncover whether there is or not raw sewage spilling directly into the bay as some have indicated. Olympic officials have denied this is the case, but science may say otherwise.

Individual water samples were taken from Guanabara Bay, and from Copacabana Beach, and then sent to an outside lab for independent testing. And this is what they found:

Guanabara Bay is infested with viral material and feces, at levels so high no one would think of going anywhere near the water under other circumstances, and sadly Copacabana Beach didn’t fare much better; the sample taken there indicated high levels of viruses derived from sewage pollution.

“The levels that we reviewed were higher than we would expect in the United States,” said Jennifer Carey, the founding principal and CEO of JLC Environmental Consultants. “The diseases that could affect people that are exposed to these types of pathogens could be an acute respiratory disease, things like typhoid, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and even ear infections.”

Yikes! The Olympic are fun and all, but as an industry leader in medical and hazardous waste disposal, we can’t help but wonder: At what cost to public health and safety will the games have gone on?

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