CHICAGO (CBS)–A business owner in Chicago’s Ravenswood Manor neighborhood recently found out his toilets dump directly into the Chicago River, but the worst part of the discovery is that it’s been happening for a century.

Mark Aistrope found his company’s dream building in a neighborhood that he was hoping to help revitalize.

“We obviously love it because of these old bow truss structure ceilings,” Aistrope said.

Aistrope’s business is one of a handful of commercial properties dumping sewage into the north branch of the Chicago River. He said he wants to fix the problem, but he needs the city’s help.

“I’m very idealistic about we can be a pillar of this community and effect change here,” Aistrope said.

The business was going to move in December, but a plumbing problem delayed those plans.

Standing in the men’s bathroom, Aistrope explained how his plumbing system works. He said his toilets are connected to a water main that feeds into the river.

CBS 2 tested the plumbing system by flushing non-toxic food dye down the toilet.

After a few flushes, the dye spilled out of a drainage pipe directly into the river.

“It was kind of this Erin Brockovich moment,” Aistrope said. “It’s been going on for 100 years and no one knows about it?”

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management knew about the problem in the 1980’s when they corrected the icky issue for most of the properties in the area.

It’s unclear why this building and at least a few other residential buildings nearby were left out.

Friends of the Chicago River say they want more water-quality monitoring to locate all the places where sewage could be leaking in.

Aistrope said his hands are tied because he’s facing financial problems.

“In the absence of them taking responsibility, they’re saying, we’re responsible for it,” he said.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District issued a statement that said, “The property owner will be liable to cover the costs since it is a commercial building.”

“This is not something that I planned for or have the reserves for,” he said.

The City of Chicago Department of Water Management described the sewage problem as a “legacy infrastructure issue” that they’re working to fix. The city did not respond to a request for how much the repairs could cost.

 

Megan Hickey