If you somehow haven’t heard, this year’s Olympics promise to be full of it.
Meghan O’Leary, a member of the U.S. rowing team, told the Los Angeles Times she plans to avoid touching her face during her Olympic events, which begin this weekend. The water where Olympic rowers, sailors, and swimmers will compete still teems with hazardous levels of bacteria and viruses.
In the New York Times, one doctor likened it to “swimming in human crap.” Rio’s promised pre-Olympic sanitation improvement plan has largely collapsed. Many of the city’s middle-income neighborhoods and poorer favela communities are still disconnected from the formal sewage network.
The reason so much sewage is flushed directly into Rio’s Guanabara Bay, city officials have argued, is that it’s too difficult to lay pipes in much of the city. The favelas are crowded and carved into steep mountainsides. They can be dangerous. Environmental activists, meanwhile, contend there’s not enough government will behind sanitation projects.
But there is one solution that gets around these issues: A cheap, seven-foot, cement dome that treats sewage with little more than some rocks, plants, and, well, coprophagic bacteria.
I learned about this contraption, called a biodigester, on a December reporting trip to Rio. On a scorching hot day, I took a cab up a mountain in the city’s northern zone, where I met Otavio Barros, the leader of the Vale Encantado community.