Chicago area residents have wondered for years about the health risks of using the Chicago River for recreation. According to a University of Illinois at Chicago study, canoeing, kayaking, rowing, boating and fishing on the Chicago River pose the same risk of gastrointestinal illness as performing these same activities on other local waters -- a risk that turns out to be higher than that intended for swimmers at Lake Michigan beaches.
The study is the first in the U.S. to evaluate health and environmental factors associated with these "limited-contact" water recreation activities. Federal regulations protect people who swim at beaches, but national water-quality standards do not exist for those who row, paddle, boat or fish on waterways not approved for swimming.
Since the Chicago River is mostly wastewater discharge, "it was a surprise that the occurrence of illness was similar" for limited-contact users of the river and other local waterways, says Dr. Samuel Dorevitch, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UIC School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study.
The study was funded by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, a regional taxing body responsible for treating wastewater. The results are published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Results of the Chicago Health, Environmental Exposure, and Recreation Study, or CHEERS, found that on average, about 14 people per thousand who use the Chicago River developed gastrointestinal illness attributable to using the river, similar to the rate among limited-contact users of other waters in the study, which included the Fox River, Des Plaines River, and several small inland lakes such as Tampier Lake, Busse Woods Lake, Skokie Lagoons, Crystal Lake, and Lake Michigan beaches.
The U.S. EPA criteria for water quality at swimming beaches allows a level of bacteria based on a
|Contact: Sherri McGinnis Gonzlez|
University of Illinois at Chicago