CBS (CHICAGO) – Chicago taxpayers spent over $1 million to improve Humboldt Park Beach, but 2 Investigators have found water quality issues remain.
Water from the city’s beaches is tested for bacteria every morning at the University of Illinois at Chicago. If the level exceeds 1,000 cells per 100 milliliters of water, it’s considered unsafe for swimming, according to interviews and records.
At Humboldt Park, the water has been unsafe more than half the time since 2017.
There were 63 unsafe days last summer and 18 in 2018, with bacteria counts this year ticking as high as 44,000 cells, according to park district data, analyzed by 2 Investigators.
“At first, we wondered if those numbers were a mistake,” says Samuel Dorevitch, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
But they weren’t.
“Is that a concern?” asks 2 Investigator Brad Edwards.
“That is a concern,” Dorevitch says, adding his team checks for Enterococci, a bacteria found in animal and human feces.
Lisa Ravindra, a physician at Rush University Medical Center, says kids are more susceptible to becoming ill from unsafe water, adding common symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting.
“That’s because they spend more time in the water,” she says. “They dunk their heads, they swallow water.”
Ravindra tells Edwards she would not let her own children swim if the bacteria levels were elevated.
The city once shuttered Humboldt Beach to save money. Mayor Rahm Emanuel reopened Chicago’s only inland beach in 2016 after public outcry. Taxpayers spent $1 million on improvements but water quality issues persist.
To lower bacteria counts, sources say the park district now pumps as many as 80,000 gallons of fresh drinking water daily into the lagoon.
“I think removing the sources of the pollution would be important but we’re not even at that stage,” Dorevitch says.
In a statement, a park district spokeswoman says, “We take both conservation and public health issues very seriously. Renovations at Humboldt Beach allowed for a reduction in the use of fresh water, but some water input is still necessary to maintain water quality for swimming.”
The statement continues, “We appreciate the media coverage of the issue, and we ask that you help spread the word on how the public can help keep the beach clean: don’t feed birds or wildlife, keep dogs away from the swimming beach, put your trash and recycling in the cans provided, and use waterproof swim pants for small children.”