Sewage in the Seine: New tests show the river remains unswimmable with three weeks to the Olympics

The Paris Olympics opening ceremony has faced uncertainty due to the unsuitable condition of the River Seine, which is scheduled to host various competitions, including the 10km freestyle and triathlon. The cancellation of a rehearsal for the opening ceremony on June 20, 2023, was prompted by high concentrations of faecal bacteria in the water, according to new water analyses by Paris City Hall.

The analysis conducted between June 18 and 20 revealed worrying levels of E. coli and enterococci bacteria exceeding the maximum thresholds set by sporting officials. The World Triathlon Federation’s threshold for E. coli was violated by ten times, and enterococci levels were also unsafe. Further testing by environmental not-for-profit Surfrider Europe suggested the potential presence of other pollutants, such as pharmaceutical, industrial, or chemical pollution.

The presence of bacteria in the Seine is a critical concern for the successful execution of the upcoming Games. Last year, the World Aquatics shut down the Open Water Swimming World Cup due to substandard water quality. French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had planned to swim in the Seine on June 23 to prove its safety, but they subsequently withdrew due to “political reasons.”

The deteriorating quality of the Seine’s water is reportedly due to unfavorable hydrological conditions, including rainfall, high flow, little sunshine, temperatures below seasonal norms, and pollution from upstream. Months of wet weather have resulted in the river flowing at four to five times its usual level, and storms frequently overwhelm the city’s 19th-century sewer network, discharging untreated effluent directly into the river.

Organizers are optimistic that the next three weeks will bring enough dry weather and sunshine to reduce the bacteria to acceptable levels, ensuring the safe execution of the Paris Olympics.

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