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10 Apr, 2024 13:59

Fecal-ridden river threatens Paris Olympics

The Seine has “alarming” bacteria levels, tests have revealed
Fecal-ridden river threatens Paris Olympics

The swimming leg of the Olympic triathlon in Paris could be delayed or canceled if water quality does not improve in the Seine River, which flows through the French capital, according to the organizers of the event.

The river is set to host several Olympic events this summer but has “alarming” bacteria levels, according to a warning issued by international NGO Surfrider Foundation Europe on Monday. The group claimed that out of 14 samples taken at the Alexandre III Bridge over a six-month period, all but one showed poor water quality.

Tony Estanguet, a three-time Olympic canoeing champion and the president of the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee, admitted on Tuesday that E. coli is “one of the bigger challenges” facing the organizers, noting that the triathlon could be delayed or the swimming leg canceled if water quality worsens.

“In sport, there’s a risk – there’s always a risk,” The Telegraph quoted Estanguet as saying. He stressed that there is “only one location” and no question of finding a back-up venue.

The main danger comes from heavy rainstorms, when water pours into the Parisian sewage system, causing an overflow risk. Excess rain is then discharged into the river and may lead to pollution. Last summer a sewage leak led to the cancelation of a pre-Olympic swimming event.

Measurements taken between September 2023 and March 2024 showed that levels of two bacteria – E. coli and enterococci – were often two and sometimes three times higher than the maximum European permitted amounts, according to the Surfrider Foundation.

Pollution levels remained high even after Paris invested over €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in a bid to provide safe swimming in the Seine for the first time in a century.

The €1.4 billion plan for the river involved a renovation of infrastructure, including new underground pipes and pumps. Water quality specialists said concentration levels for two bacteria, Enterococcus and E.coli, both used as the primary indicators of fecal material in fresh waters, were low enough to safely swim in the river.

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to swim in the Seine in an apparent attempt to prove it is clean, ahead of the Olympic Games set to be hosted in the country’s capital in July and August.