- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Organizers of the Pittsburgh Triathlon didn’t appear to follow their own rules when they allowed the event to include swimming after rains carried raw sewage into a city river before Sunday’s event, a newspaper reported.

The triathlon’s website said the swimming portion of the event was to be canceled if bacterial pollution, such as E. coli and fecal coliform, exceeds certain levels in the week before the event and if rain causes an overflow within 24 hours of the event, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

Pollution levels in the Allegheny River were more than three times the safe level six days before the race, and the sewers overflowed into the river about nine hours before the race.

Organizers said they decided to hold the race after studying bacteria in the river all summer and seeing it decrease to a level they considered safe.

The policy, which is posted on the triathlon’s website, was developed in the spring before organizers began collecting and testing water samples and studying how the river rebounds from pollution after heavy rains, said John Stephen, co-founder of Friends of the Riverfront. The group works to improve rivers and riverfronts in the Pittsburgh-area, and to reclaim them for public use.

“The whole program was new, and the motivation was to try to get better information for the competitors,” Stephen said.

As a result, race organizers didn’t follow the policy posted on the website but, instead, decided to allow the swimming portion of the race based on river analysis done over the summer, and the fact that bacteria were decreasing all week. The overflow stopped about 9:30 p.m. Saturday - the night before the race - and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority inspected the river Sunday morning and determined that sewage had stopped flowing into the river upstream from the race area, Stephen said.

The authority is currently working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on long-term solutions to the overflows. The Pittsburgh-areas sewers connect with storm drains in many areas - a technology preferred decades ago, when it was considered wise to let storm drainage dilute raw sewage.

But now, when it rains heavily, storm drain overflows draw sewage into the river in violation of stricter pollution regulations that have been developed in recent years.

Brendon McKinley, a 22-year-old triathlete from Malvern, said he was hospitalized Monday for diarrhea and vomiting which doctors believe was caused by his exposure to the river bacteria.

“They were pretty confident that’s what it was from,” McKinley said.

Officials plan to survey the race’s 200 competitors as part of an effort to discuss ways to improve the water’s quality.

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com