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Rio 2016 tells athletes: Come on in, the water's fine

Europe
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Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - The water in Rio de Janeiro will be safe for Olympic swimmers, sailors and rowers, the Rio 2016 organizing committee said Tuesday, after new tests showed reduced levels of pollution.

"We can guarantee athletes‘ health," Rio spokesperson Mario Andrada told dpa.

Athletes will get daily updates on water quality ahead of events, Andrada said.

Rio has struggled to rein in high levels of pollution in the waters of Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailing competitions are set to take place, and in the waters and lagoons off Copacabana Beach, which will host open-water swimming and rowing events.

Reports of dead bodies, furniture and raw sewage in Guanabara Bay have made headlines around the world, and athletes have expressed concerns about coming into contact with the water.

Germany‘s sailing team has been preparing with extra vaccinations and plans to rinse off the muck from its boats with fresh water.

Sailor Erik Heil was infected by a flesh-eating bacteria in his foot and hip last year after a visit to Brazil. Doctors linked the infection to his participation in practice events on Guanabara Bay.

A system for keeping sewage out of the Marina de Gloria, the starting point for Olympic sailing events, has made progress, and garbage-scooping "eco-boats" will take care of floating waste.

Organizers originally had planned to treat 80 per cent of the water in Guanabara Bay by 2018 - a goal which would require stopping the flow of raw sewage into the bay from Rio‘s homes, factories and hospitals.

At least half of the bay‘s water would be treated for now, Andrada said, which would be an improvement over the mere 12 per cent treated when Rio was awarded the Games in 2009.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a loan of more than 450 million dollars in 2011 for cleaning up the bay in time for the Games.

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