News Briefs: Olympians Attempt to Avoid Rio's Sewage Splash

In this week's water and wastewater news, Olympians work to avoid sewage-tainted waters, the fallout in Flint continues, and fuel tanks in Hawaii cause concern for utility managers.
News Briefs: Olympians Attempt to Avoid Rio's Sewage Splash

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In Rio de Janeiro, a successful trip to the 2016 Olympics means more than a medal for those competing in water sports. Visiting athletes are instead trying to avoid Rio’s sewage-contaminated Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, which has made headlines over the past few months because of its high concentration of bacteria and viruses.

“We try to avoid any hand-to-mouth contact and try to avoid getting any of the water in our mouths,” says Australian rower Kim Brennan in a Chicago Tribune article.

Canadian rower Carling Zeeman says her coach handed her a bottle of hand sanitizer at the dock.

Other athletes have been training in the lagoon for months in an attempt to build up immunity.

When Rio de Janeiro bid on hosting the 2016 Olympics, authorities promised that 80 percent of the city’s wastewater would be treated in time for the games. According to an NBC report, Rio currently captures and treats about half of its wastewater, despite a multibillion-dollar investment in infrastructure. In 2007, only 11 percent of the city’s wastewater was treated, so the city has made advancements.

Drier winter weather has helped with water quality (hillside slums often contribute to pollution when torrential rains push untreated human waste into the lagoon). And, according to tests by the state of Rio de Janeiro, the lagoon meets bacterial pollution standards set by the World Health Organization.

Still, many athletes remain cautious.

“We’re just making sure we don’t put our hands in our mouth after touching water,” says New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale in the Chiago Tribune. “And we make sure that anything we eat and drink has been protected from the water.”

Sources: Chicago Tribune, NBC News

Criminal Charges Filed Against 6 Flint Employees

The fallout from the Flint lead crisis continued last week when charges were filed against six current and former state employees. The allegations center around the alteration and concealment of reports that showed elevated blood lead levels in the city’s children.

Three municipal water regulators — Adam Rosenthal, Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby — were charged with altering reports. According to The Detroit News, the analysts altered a water-testing report to “exclude some samples to keep overall lead levels under the federal limit.”

Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott, from the Department of Health and Human Services, allegedly buried a report from an epidemiologist that showed elevated blood lead levels. Corrine Miller, the state’s top epidemiologist, allegedly ordered a DHHS employee to delete emails pertaining to the report. Peeler, Scott and Miller have been charged with misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty.

Source: The Detroit News

Huge Navy Fuel Tanks Threaten Hawaii’s Aquifer

In Honolulu, massive World War II-era underground fuel tanks sit on top of the island’s aquifer. Those tanks, which measure 25 stories tall, have been a source of contention between the Navy and the region’s water utility managers, who say the tanks need to be moved to protect an aquifer that supplies water to more than a quarter of urban Honolulu.

In 2014, one of the tanks leaked tens of thousands of gallons of jet fuel into the ground. Officials from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply say studies have shown hydrocarbon in the rocks underneath the tanks. In total, the tanks hold about 187 million gallons of fuel, accounting for a vital fuel reserve in the Pacific.

As part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Navy will add four new wells to monitor groundwater by the end of the year. But water officials say the threat of fuel leaking into the water supply is too great to ignore.

“We live on an island,” says Ernest Lau, the utility’s water manager and chief engineer, in The Herald-Dispatch. “Every drop of pure freshwater is precious to us.”

The utility has considered a treatment system to remove fuel contaminants, which would be a costly update to ratepayers if federal funds are not secured. For now, however, the water is safe to drink.

Source: Herald-Dispatch


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