BY Alex Ruppenthal, WTTW/Chicago Tonight
Chicago beachgoers will receive more up-to-date and accurate alerts about the water quality at their favorite lakefront hangouts this summer as part of a breakthrough rapid water-testing program developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
For the past two summers, UIC has partnered with the Chicago Park District to conduct same-day water testing at nine beaches as part of a pilot program. The data collected is used by park officials to issue swim advisories when bacteria levels are high. This summer, the program will expand to 20 beaches – all but seven of those in Chicago – as part of a $500,000 contract with UIC approved earlier this year by the Park District board.
And as for those seven beaches not tested? Don’t worry, says Sam Dorevitch, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC. They’re located near beaches with testing, which will allow the Park District to issue accurate advisories for all 27 beaches.
The decision to expand the program came after a study published by UIC researchers in the journal Environmental Health showing that rapid testing, which analyzes levels of bacterial DNA in a water sample within about four hours, can produce a swim advisory by early afternoon the same day. By contrast, water culture testing, the most widely used method for swim advisories, takes 24 to 48 hours to yield results.