Pittsburgh Triathlon Plans More Water Testing

  • Pittsburgh Triathlon, swimmers in the Allegheny River. Photo: Friends of the Riverfront.

May 30, 2014

More people are taking part in triathlons in the U.S., races that include running, biking, and swimming. But in some cities jumping into the water can be a health concern, especially in places where sewage flows into the water after it rains. This year the Pittsburgh Triathlon is increasing river testing before the event, to ensure the water is clean enough to swim.

The Triathlon has been around for 17 years. It made headlines last summer when a few athletes reported feeling sick after swimming up to 2.4 miles in the Allegheny River Downtown.

Tom Baxter is executive director of Friends of the Riverfront, which organizes the race. He says in previous years, they’ve asked Allegheny County to test pollution levels in the river. But he says the results weren’t helpful on race day.

“The issue with those is it takes 24 hours to report on those findings, and that water as you know in a river is going to flow further downstream. Also the testing we had done was right on the riverbank, and the water quality is different from the riverbank to the swim course.”

Baxter says leading up to the race this year they will take water samples from the exact location of the swim course under different flow and weather conditions.

“What’s happening now is we’re making predictive models, and that way we will know with some degree of certainty what the water quality actually is, and also we will post that information online and also in the race tent. So it’s very clear and upfront, athletes can read it, review it, and make their decisions.”

Baxter says organizers could cancel the swim leg of the race if e-coli levels are too high. They are still determining criteria for when that might be deemed necessary. If it happens, athletes would be asked to run or bike twice, to maintain the event as a triathalon. Baxter says the increased testing is a positive step for the race.  They’ve already maxed out on the number of people who can participate—1,500—and the race isn’t until August.