Report: Chicago role model on beach testing

July 29, 2009 3:26:22 PM PDT
A new report gives Chicago high marks for efforts to keep the waters along the lakefront free of pollutants and safe for swimmers. The highest level of contamination was found in the Great Lakes, where 13-percent of beach water samples violated public health standards, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Even so, Chicago is being praised for its proactive approach.

NRDC called the Windy City a role model.

The report shows that water along U.S. beaches continues to have serious contamination problems. While the numbers are worse in the Great Lakes, NRDC said other municipalities could learn from the aggressive testing and communication strategies Chicago uses.

"I would say we've got clean beaches. It definitely is a plus," said Rick Ferro, Chicago resident.

The recent report, Testing the Water (read the report at nrdc.org, said Chicago's beach testing protects swimmers from pollution through prevention.

"Chicago is the model of the kind of frequent and rapid testing of beaches we'd like to see used," said Andrew Wetzler, Natural Resources Defense Council.

"People from other cities don't realize how beautiful the Chicago lakefronts is," said Kelly Barone, Chicagoan.

Chicago's beaches implemented a cutting edge technology this year.

"For example, this year we introduced the use of a Chicago rake. That rake digs deeper into the sands to expose the wet sand to sunlight and U.V. rays which helps decrease bacteria," said Ellen Sargent, Chicago Park District

The waste recycling program also provides covered and weighted recycling and waste containers to help minimize the food sources that attract gulls. There is also a gull program designed to clean the waste left from the birds that would normally pollute the waters. Three beaches in Chicago are closed to swimmers on Wednesday: North Ave, 63rd Street Beach and 57th. All others are open for swimming.

"I suppose it's a good thing? closing the beaches to make them safe," said Garrett Cole, Chicago resident.

"Swim bans alone, according to one study it can cost the local economy as much as $2.5 billion a year," said Wetzler. "We can do a better job of figuring out the causes of beach closures by requiring real-time reporting and direct public notice."

To help keep our beaches clean the Natural Resources Defense Council supports comprehensive beach water testing to detect the pathogens that can cause health problems in swimmers. According to NRDC, new bills now pending in Congress would provide funding for beach cleanup efforts and help ensure that the public is notified when beaches are unsafe for swimming.


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