Rio officials blame green pool on contractor, plan total water swap

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

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RIO DE JANEIRO – What caused the pools for Rio Olympic water polo, diving and synchronized swimmer to turn a disgusting shade of green?

Human error.

That was the definitive answer from Gustavo Nascimento, director of venue management for the Games, who said a mistake by a contractor hired to maintain the water caused the discoloration and the several days spent attempting to remedy it – days that will end with the entire water polo pool being drained and refilled ahead of synchronized swimming.

“Before the games on Tuesday, the water turned green. We investigated the causes that put us in this situation, and there are two main sources that have potentially made this water turn green. Maybe it’s a combination of both. We can never be certain because the chemicals that made the green are already gone,” said Nascimento.

Problem No. 1: On Friday, the day of opening ceremonies, 80 liters of hydrogen peroxide were added to the water by a contractor. While hydrogen peroxide can be used as a way to kill organics in the water, it’s not something that is used in addition to chlorine.

So not only did the contractor not add the right amount of hydrogen peroxide for a large pool, but by adding it to the pool, it effectively “neutralizes the chloride’s ability to kill organics,” said the organizers, “it was asleep.”

This was not something “that should have been done,” according to Nascimento, but ultimately “our contractor’s failure is our failure.”

Problem No. 2: The electronic management system in the pool that measures the quantity of chlorine didn’t detect any issue. The chlorine was there. It had just been rendered ineffective. “The electronic management system was betrayed by this chemistry, which was inserted manually by one of our contractors. It was our contractor’s failure. It was our failure,” said Nascimento.

Problem No. 3: The athletes started using the pool, in great numbers and causing a great number of chemical reactions. The Rio 2016 organizers reiterated, as they have throughout the Games, that the water was no threat to the athletes, despite being green and smelling like farts.

So while the green pools became a subject of global ridicule, the Rio 2016 team attempted to “get the chemistry right” and fix the problems.


That included the over-chlorination of the water polo pool, leaving athletes’ eyes itchy and irritated.

“We were fixing the chemistry. It caused discomfort. We’re sorry for that. But we did not put the athletes’ health and safety as risk,” said Nascimento.

That included changing the sand in the diving pool filters. That included shocking what was believed to be algae in the water to turn it into solids, so the water could be cleaned.

It worked, a little bit: The water now looked less like Shrek and more like Scope mouthwash. But it wasn’t working fast enough for their timetable: The water had to be crystal clear for synchronized swimming, because judges have to have a clear sightline underneath the water for the performances.

So after four days of treatment, Rio 2016 officials opted for drastic measures: They’re going to drain the pool, and pump in water from the practice pool in back of the aquatic center to replace it.

“It’s not going as fast as we wanted,” said Nascimento. “So we’re going to grab the water overnight. We’re hoping in the next 12 hours, we see improvement of the aesthetics of the water.”

The process began on Saturday afternoon; synchronized swimming is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The green fart water will be pumped into the city sewers through rain-water drains. Around 3,720,000 liters of water will be moved from the practice pool to the competition pool through pumps and flexible pipes.

So the hope is that this issue is resolved by 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

And if it doesn’t work?

Plan B is “working on the competition schedule” and potentially delaying the start of synchronized swimming. “We’re not discussing this right now, but we have a plan,” said Nascimento.

Curiously, Rio officials said that the contractor whose mistake turned the water green was still working on their team at the facility, but has been joined by a number of other experts. As far as repercussions for that contractor, Mario Andrada, spokesman for Rio 2016, said now wasn’t the time to discuss potential punishments.

“Now it’s time to fix the problem. We’re not here to discuss who’s to blame, who is going to pay a fine or which contractor is going to be suspended,” he said.

But as the murky waters of the Rio Olympic pools is remedied, one thing is crystal clear:

“Of course we’re embarrassed,” said Andrada. “We are hosting the Olympic Games. The world is here. The water should be light blue and transparent. And we should have done a better job fixing it quickly. We learned painful lessons the hard way.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring U.S. swimming legend Summer Sanders on Michael Phelps, IOC doping and Donald Trump:

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