Chicago-area beaches were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day last year, report says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Are some Chicago-area beaches unsafe for swimming?

A report released Tuesday by the Environment America Research and Policy Center lists the most troubled beaches in 20 coastal and Great Lakes states in 2018. Overall, Chicago-area beaches are safe, but there are days when the bacteria counts spike.

In Cook County, all 19 of the sampled beaches had water pollution levels that made the areas potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day last year.

The report found that local beaches still have trouble with bacterial contamination from sewer runoff. The findings also show that bird waste was especially an issue in 2018.

Chicago officials disputed the findings, saying in a statement that the city measures contamination using a "rapid analysis method, and not the culture-based method cited in the report."

They said the rapid analysis leads to results every two to four hours, which the city acts on. It also has a higher threshold for determining whether pollution is a problem.

The city said its approach is better because water quality conditions can change dramatically from day to day, and that faster results provide more accurate information.

"The takeaways are the same -- that all 19 beaches in Cook County had at least one unsafe day in terms of fecal contamination levels in the water," said Hannah Kim, an advocate with Environment Illinois Research and Policy Center.

Chicago maintains it's "the only major city that performs same-day, DNA-based recreational water quality monitoring." The city also stood by its red-yellow-green system for flagging water conditions.

Some local beach-goers aren't too concerned.

Marek Pietraszek visited North Avenue Beach on Wednesday.

"I mean the water looks good to me," Pietraszek said.

Naperville resident Krista Cozzi said her kids were playing in the water at North Avenue Beach.

"We told them don't drink the water," Cozzi said. "Don't want them to get sick."
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