Seine River Pollution Could Cancel Paris Olympics – Here’s Why

The main line

Some swimming events at the 2024 Paris Olympics could be canceled or postponed, officials said, after the city’s water company warned of unsafe pollution in the Seine River less than a month before the games start – although French President Emmanuel Macron Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have claimed the river will be clean in time for the events after a decades-long clean-up effort.

Key facts

Eau de Paris, the water supply company linked to the city government, said on Friday that the Seine had tested for unsafe levels of E. coli pollution in four different parts of the river for the third week in a row, including an area which was approximately double the established limit. by the World Triathlon Federation.

Hidalgo’s office said in a statement that the river’s water quality “remains degraded” due to “adverse” conditions, such as above-average temperatures and rainfall, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Surfrider Europe Foundation completed 14 tests on water samples taken from two points on the Seine – including the starting point for the Olympic and Paralympic triathlon and marathon swimming events – between September and March, none of which met European Union regulations. the water charity said earlier. this year.

According to the group, only one sample did not show alarming levels of bacteria such as E. coli and enterococcus faecalis, a bacteria found in human feces.

Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris Organizing Committee, reportedly said that while officials are “certain that it will be possible to use the Seine”, there may be a “final decision where we cannot swim”, specifically referring to a scenario that involves heavy rain, which could lead to increased levels of E. coli in the river.

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement to NBC News that the triathlon could be canceled or turned into a duathlon — just running and cycling — if the river water is too polluted.

What to look for

Pierre Rabadan, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of the Olympics, told the New York Times that if it rains in Paris for “a week continuously before the competitions”, the water quality of the Seine “may not be great”.

Chief critic

Ana Marcela Cunha, the Brazilian gold medalist in the women’s 10-kilometer swimming marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, told Agence France-Presse that there is “a concern” about pollution in the Seine. Olympic officials “need a plan B in case it’s not possible to swim in the Seine,” Cunha said, adding that the river “is not designed for swimming.” Some Parisians are also said to be organizing a “poop protest”, which involves people defecating in the river en masse to protest the river’s pollution.


Macron and Hidalgo said they plan to personally swim the Seine to show the city’s efforts to clean up the river. Hidalgo, who canceled plans to swim the river on Sunday because of the upcoming election, said Wednesday that the river is “ready.” Macron said it would be “an important legacy” of the Olympics for the Seine to be included in the event.

Big number

1.5 billion dollars. That’s how much Paris has spent during a decades-long effort to clean up the Seine for public use, which includes projects to improve the city’s sewage system and stormwater treatment facilities.

Surprising fact

World Aquatics – the world governing body for swimming – canceled the Open Water Swimming World Cup in Paris last year after officials determined that the water quality of the Seine “remained below acceptable standards for maintaining the health of swimmers”. The organization noted that it was “clear that further work is needed” to “ensure that robust contingency plans are in place” for the Olympics.

Key background

Public swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, after officials determined the water was unsafe, according to the BBC. Paris operates with a “single system” drainage infrastructure that becomes overwhelmed during heavy rainfall, causing excess water to flow into the river. Parisian officials said the cleanup efforts, in addition to updated sewage and drainage systems, will allow the city to open three open-air swimming areas by 2025.

Further reading

Paris Olympics must have ‘Plan B’ for Seine events, says swimming champion (AFP)

Here’s why the unveiling of Nike’s women’s Olympic uniform prompted claims of sexism and criticism from athletes (Forbes)

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