- "A floating corpse and a severed arm have already been retrieved from the disgusting water at Ganabara Bay in Rio
"Just days ahead of the Olympic Games the waterways of Rio de Janeiro are as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria, according to a 16-month-long study.
Rubbish is so thick in some areas that water is not visible and rats are able to live on top of the disgusting floating debris.
Not only are some 1,400 athletes at risk of getting violently ill in water competitions, but the tests indicate that tourists also face potentially serious health risks on the golden beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.
The survey of the aquatic Olympic and Paralympic venues has revealed consistent and dangerously high levels of viruses from the pollution, a major black eye on Rio's Olympic project that has set off alarm bells among sailors, rowers and open-water swimmers.
The first results of the study published over a year ago showed viral levels at up to 1.7 million times what would be considered worrisome in the United States or Europe.
At those concentrations, swimmers and athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water are almost certain to be infected with viruses that can cause stomach and respiratory illnesses and more rarely heart and brain inflammation - although whether they actually fall ill depends on a series of factors including the strength of the individual's immune system.
Since the release of the initial results last July, athletes have been taking elaborate precautions to prevent illnesses that could potentially knock them out of the competition, including preventatively taking antibiotics, bleaching oars and donning plastic suits and gloves in a bid to limit contact with the water.
But antibiotics combat bacterial infections, not viruses.
And the investigation found that infectious adenovirus readings - tested with cell cultures and verified with molecular biology protocols - turned up at nearly 90 percent of the test sites over 16 months of testing.
'That's a very, very, very high percentage,' said Dr. Valerie Harwood, Chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida. 'Seeing that level of human pathogenic virus is pretty much unheard of in surface waters in the U.S. You would never, ever see these levels because we treat our waste water. You just would not see this.'
While athletes take precautions, what about the 300,000-500,000 foreigners expected to descend on Rio for the Olympics? Testing at several of the city's world-famous beaches has shown that in addition to persistently high viral loads, the beaches often have levels of bacterial markers for sewage pollution that would be cause for concern abroad - and sometimes even exceed Rio state's lax water safety standards.
In light of the findings, Harwood had one piece of advice for travelers to Rio: 'Don't put your head under water.'
Swimmers who cannot heed that advice stand to ingest water through their mouths and noses and therefore risk 'getting violently ill,' she said.
Danger is lurking even in the sand. Samples from the beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema revealed high levels of viruses, which recent studies have suggested can pose a health risk - particularly to babies and small children.
'Both of them have pretty high levels of infectious adenovirus,' said Harwood, adding that the virus could be particularly hazardous to babies and toddlers who play in the sand....
Dr. Fernando Spilki, the virologist and coordinator of the molecular microbiology laboratory at Feevale University in southern Brazil whom AP commissioned to conduct the water tests, says the survey revealed no appreciable improvement in Rio's blighted waters - despite cleanup promises stretching back decades....
In Rio, the main tourist gateway to the country, a centuries-long sewage problem that was part of Brazil's colonial legacy has spiked in recent decades in tandem with the rural exodus that saw the metropolitan area nearly double in size since 1970.
Even in the city's wealthy areas, sewage treatment has lagged dramatically behind, with so-called 'black tongues' of fetid, sewage-filled water common even on the tony Ipanema and Leblon Beaches. The lagoons in the fast-growing Barra da Tijuca region have been filled with so much sewage dumped by nearby glass-and-steel residential towers that vast islands of sludge emerge from the filthy waters during low tide. That lagoon system, which hugs the Olympic Park and Athletes' Village, regularly sees massive pollution-related fish die-offs and emits an eye-watering sulfuric stench.
Promises to clean up Rio's waterways stretch back decades, with a succession of governors setting firm dates for a cleanup and repeatedly pushing them back. In the city's 2009 Olympic bid document, authorities pledged the games would 'regenerate Rio's magnificent waterways.' A promised billion-dollar investment in cleanup programs was meant to be among the games' most important legacies.
Once more, the lofty promises have ended in failure.
Just over a month before the games, biologist Mario Moscatelli spent more than two hours flying over Rio in a helicopter, as he's done on a monthly basis for the past 20 years.
Viewed from above, Rio's sewage problem is as starkly visible as on the spreadsheets of the AP analysis: Rivers are tar-black; the lagoons near the Olympic Park bloom with fluorescent green algae that thrives amid sewage; fishermen's wooden boats sink into thick sludge in the Guanabara Bay; surfers paddle amid a giant brown stain that contrasts with the azure of the surrounding waters.
'It's been decades and I see no improvement,' laments Moscatelli, an activist who's the most visible face of the fight to clean up Rio's waterways. 'The Guanabara Bay has been transformed into a latrine ... and unfortunately Rio de Janeiro missed the opportunity, maybe the last big opportunity' to clean it up.
On Saturday, the stand for sailor collapsed into the filth."...