Burning eyes, foul smells.
Maybe those striking Rio de Janeiro firefighters were onto something when they greeted people at the airport with a banner that read “WELCOME TO HELL.”
They (presumably) didn’t know it at the time, but instead of capturing the city’s lackluster support for civil servants, those protesters were rather accurately describing the fate of the Olympic diving center just over a month later.
By Friday, capping off a truly hellish week for the officials in charge of pool cleanliness, the divers had begun complaining of itchy eyes. At least one reportedly said “the whole building smells like a fart.”
The offending pool was temporarily closed Friday morning.
Rio 2016 officials announced they had canceled morning practice in the pool. “The reason is that the water must be still so the pool can return to its blue color as soon as possible,” the statement read. “Athletes are performing dry training this morning.”
But Nate Hernandez of VivoAquatics, a company that specializes in managing large-scale aquatic installations, wasn’t buying that explanation.
“That doesn’t really make sense to me ― anything you put in the pool needs to be circulated to be effective,” he told HuffPost. “Say I drop chemicals into a corner of a pool ― if it isn’t being circulated, it’s not going to be dispersed uniformly throughout.”
The sudden appearance of “fart” smells was not an encouraging sign, Hernandez added.
“That’s bad. That means their whole system is failing, the filtration is failing. Something organic or inorganic in the water is causing that smell. Hard to say exactly what it is without testing it myself, but this is really not good,” he said.
Meanwhile, athletes have begun protesting the conditions on Twitter using the hashtag #FixTheSwamp.
The problem seemed to begin Monday night when the waters of the diving pool mysteriously changed color ― from the usual clear blue to a pea green. Rio officials have scrambled to explain what’s happening ever since.
On Wednesday, Rio spokesman Mario Andrada blamed the color on “a proliferation of algae” and assured athletes that the pool would return to blue that very day. Instead, it remained green ― and an adjacent pool that hosts water polo and synchronized swimming began turning green as well.
On Thursday, Andrada switched up the explanation, saying a chemical imbalance brought out the green monster.
“There was a sudden decrease in the alkalinity of the diving pool for us,” he said, “and that’s the main reason the color has been changed.” Again, he predicted that the pool would shortly return to blue.
Both Olympic officials and FINA, the international governing body that oversees aquatic sports, have tried to reassure a watching world that the water has never posed a threat to athletes’ health. Andrada repeated that thought on Friday, telling NBC:
“The water does not offer any threat to the health of the athletes. In the first day of this water situation, one or two athletes complained about their eyes being itchy. This was a result that the first reaction when we saw the water turning green was to use one of the chemicals — chlorine — that is very common in swimming pools. We reduced immediately the quantity. We retested the water and it was totally within the parameters.”
Around noon Eastern time, the pool was reopened, allowing the divers to get in a little practice before the women’s 3-meter springboard preliminary rounds. The water was not blue, NBC reports.
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