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Power Sweeping Pros Give Failing Marks to Sochi Olympics' Preparations

Sochi Rings

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross; with thanks to Arild Moen for instigating comments and photos

(Sochi, Russia) February, 2014

Man Sweeping

The real problem in Sochi is not loose doorknobs or lack of hot water in the shower as reported by journalists, but it is the lack of fine particle removal via power sweeping.

Russian reliance on manual sweeping created a significant airborne pollutant problem, which caused widespread medical issues for athletes and others throughout the Games.

After this story was completed we added a first-person analysis from one of the Olympic physicians who was onsite and treating the Olympic athletes. If you are returning to this story and want to read that information, click here.

"There comes a point in every Olympics when people start getting sick. It's inevitable. You've got people coming from all across the world, bringing their own unique strains of illness cultured in their own nations' petri dishes. These people are all crammed into a tiny space, breathing each other's air, occasionally exchanging each other's fluids.

"And they do this for two weeks, in the cold, working 12-plus-hour days, on little sleep and lacking even rudimentary nutrition. (The tap water in Sochi is beginning to take on the color and consistency of Yoo-Hoo. Not the taste, though.) The sickness comes for us all."

So writes Will Leitch, one of the sports world's better known writers: senior editor at Sports on Earth, contributing editor at New York Magazine, and more. What Leitch writes is no doubt true as far as it goes; however, retired Norwegian power sweeping professional, Arild Moen, has weighed in with a differing opinion of what he believes lies at the root of a significant portion of the sickness being seen at the Winter Games.

"The real problem in Sochi is not loose doorknobs or lack of hot water in the shower as reported by journalists," reports Moen in an email sent to WorldSweeper, "but it is the lack of fine particle removal with power sweeping."

Olympics Logo "As a coach potato watching our athletes beat the Americans and other nations in number of gold medals won so far, I am upset over the state of sweeping in Sochi. One of our alpine downhill favorites – Axel Lund Svindal – had to return to Norway because of allergic reactions and several others, both athletes and supporting personnel, had asthmatic reactions, sore eyes, running noses, lethargy and tiredness problems."

Indeed, a web review of types of sicknesses that appear to be striking down the athletes indicate that the types of illness being experienced by the Norwegians and athletes from many other nations is quite widespread. In the U.S., many of the explanations seen during athlete interviews, both of winners and surprise losers, have centered around how sick one or more of the participants were during that particular event.

According to Dave Feschuk, Sports Columnist for the Toronto Star who was onsite covering the Games, he, too, was struck down with the same type of maladies. In discussing his own sickness problems in an article in the Star on February 24th, at Games' end, Feschuk cited the words of Aksel Lund Svindal, the alpine ski great:

"The Norwegian, if you haven't heard, withdrew from his final event of the Games, the giant slalom. And as I read the tale of his exit, it dawned on me: He's having what I'm having. According to the skier, a number of other Olympians are having it, too.

Distance Sweeping "There's a lot of athletes that have some kind of allergy against something here," Svindal told The Associated Press. "I think it's something from the concrete that's in the air, like some fine dust. When I got here, I felt it, too. The doctors knew exactly what it was, because they gave me allergy medicine right away. It helps, but it's kind of draining."

As Moen goes on to explain, it appears to be emerging that there are other reasons besides the cramped quarters and winter weather for the cause of the widespread malaise throughout the athletic and support community, including what struck down the United States top NBC reporter for the Games, Bob Costas.

"Based on reports reaching me from Sochi," continues Moen, "most of the roads, plazas, etc. were made of newly poured concrete. Refuse and trash from construction work were also left in the area. This concrete has a layer of fine dust that turns into mud when wet.

"The Russians tried to remove the dust with manual sweeping with brooms, but they did not use water in the process; therefore, they did not achieve the required result. The fine dust entered buildings through ventilation, via mud attached to shoes and through other channels. Frequent cleaning of the buildings and manual sweeping did not solve the problem.

"The problem was biggest on the first days, with fine weather and in the middle/lower-lying areas that were not snow covered. That means that Endurance Village, where the cross country/biathlon athletes stayed and which is situated on a higher elevation, did not have the same problem as in the Coastal center (skating, ice-hockey etc.) and in the Mountain Village where the alpine athletes stayed."

There is no question that an extreme amount of fine particle dust pollution is created during construction. And, as we know from studies on American roads, a very high percentage of pollutants attach to the smallest particles, 250 microns and under (for comparison, human hair averages about 72 microns wide).

Studies in the power sweeping industry show that up to 60% of the total road-based pollutant load of pollutants targeted for removal by the US Environmental Protection Agency are contained in particles of 250-microns and smaller – even though particles that small typically comprise only about 10% of the total material on a roadway. In addition, medical professionals confirm that these small particles are much more likely to be ingested and/or breathed in where they create asthma and other health problems.

MIT researchers in 2013 concluded that air pollution in the U.S. causes 200,000 early deaths each year. "In the past five to 10 years, the evidence linking air-pollution exposure to risk of early death has really solidified and gained scientific and political traction," says Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. "There's a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there's a desire to do something about it."

The worldwide power sweeping industry should be one of the groups leading the fight against air pollution. One of the best ways is through education about what correct air sweeping can and cannot accomplish in this regard. Along with this should be the recognition of the havoc with human health that small particles are causing. With increasing recognition of the health hazards from preventable air pollution needs to come worldwide support for developing sweepers that are better able to combat the problem.

"In two years the Summer Olympics will be in Brazil and in four years the next winter Olympics will be in Korea," says Moen. "The challenge now is for the power sweeping industry to develop machines that can remove more fine particles and sell them to the Olympic organizations in Brazil and Korea. Procedures for cleaning ventilation and buildings, as well as organized concrete trash handling and removal along with (correct) power sweeping during the construction phase, must also be implemented by the Olympic organizers."

For that to happen, the sweeper manufacturers and other industry professionals must take on the task of educating those putting on the future Games, as well as health, environment and public works' leaders throughout the world, on the health value of correct power sweeping. The social and other costs of environmental pollution are rising at an unprecedented pace. The power sweeping industry can make more of an impact once there is a greater level of education on this topic. Let's make it so.

Brooms Dustpan Arild D. Moen retired as Chief Engineer of Drammen Municipal Enterprises, City of Drammen, Norway. Other articles he has written or participated in at WorldSweeper include "Sweeping in Drammen, Norway" and "Best Practices Investigation Between Officials in Anchorage, Alaska and Drammen, Norway." You may reach Arild Moen by sending email to:

Ranger Kidwell-Ross is a graduate economist who is the editor of, "Earth's largest power sweeping resource."SM and founder and Executive Director of the World Sweeping Association. Kidwell-Ross is the world's most published author on the topic of power sweeping. He has won numerous journalism awards for articles written as he has traveled throughout the world learning about, teaching about, and promoting the environmental and other benefits of small-micron removal in the urban environment.

Addendum to original article:
The following are excerpts from a transcript of the information published by Dr. Ellen Moen, daughter of co-author Arild Moen and an Olympic Village attending physician, describing the situation at the Olympics regarding the 'unexplainable' allergy attacks that were so widespread. Note: There may be minor errors due to use of the Google translation utility from Norwegian to English.

Another medical challenge that, ironically, appeared in this year's Winter Olympics was allergies. Both in the Village and in the Coastal Moutain Village, athletes and support system people presented with typical allergic symptoms. Most people got the [easier to treat] itching/burning sensations in the eyes, but a few got the more powerful rhino conjunctivitis as well as a general tired reaction. Plagues were clearly dependent on the weather. At the start, it was day after day of dry, fair weather and the worst affected gradually became poorer and poorer in health. A few of these days [created the above allergies in] those of us who never are otherwise is plagued by allergies, and also included irritation in the eyes.

When the rain finally came, the suffering was significantly reduced. The cause of the plagues was probably dust outdoors. This was also sucked in via the windows and doors because of the relatively closeness of the [housing area] we stayed in. [The allergic material] was also brought indoors as mud under the shoes which eventually dried and turned into fine dust.

It is well known that the new concrete roads [which were everywhere in the Olympic area] can give off a lot of dust particles in the first part of their life, and possibly general building dust [from all the new buildings] contributed, too. The Russians continuously... swept on the dust manually as shown in the pictures, and [this made it] swirl in the air. [It is unlikely the allergies were the result of pollen of some type, because] pollen readings showed relatively low levels.

The measures taken against the allergy plagues were frequent washing of floors; putting dust/pollen filters on windows; rinsing of the nose/eyes with salt water; and, other dust reduction measures. In addition, we medicated with common allergy medications and in a few cases, also had to resort to cortisone injection.

In the end we succeeded, but unfortunately were not able to get the most troubled athletes symptom-free during the driest days.

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