Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center releases revised report on water pollution at beaches

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John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

New version of study answers queries that led to revisions

Environment Illinois Research and Policy Center

CHICAGO– Following questions raised about data in the original version of our “Safe for Swimming?” report released Tuesday, July 23, Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center  has made significant  changes to its state results. Frontier Group, which performed the original analysis of data on fecal bacteria in waters off Illinois beaches, reanalyzed its data on behalf of Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center. 

The reassessment revealed important data errors. Frontier Group has corrected those mistakes for this revision. Specifically, while the revised report still finds that 19 of 19 tested beaches had at least one potentially unsafe day, sampling sites at locations including South Shore Beach, 63rd Street Beach and Foster Avenue Beach were shown to have significantly fewer potentially unsafe days than originally reported. The original calculations failed to account for Chicago’s use of a rapid testing method that uses different units to measure contamination but allows for more timely notification of potential health issues — an important benefit to beachgoers.

“We made mistakes last week, and we’re deeply sorry for that and the confusion that those errors caused,” said Frontier Group Managing Director Susan Rakov, whose group did the report’s analysis on behalf of Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center. “As a research group with more than two decades of experience, we take pride in our track record of accuracy and clarity, but we did not live up to our standards. We are also grateful to those who reached out to us with the concerns that led us to correct the errors.”    

Frontier Group released a more detailed statement on its website.

The updated report reinforces the initial version’s findings: Be careful at your local beach this summer because the water might be unsafe. 

Nationally, 2,580 of 4,523 beach testing sites nationwide (57 percent) had water pollution levels that exceeded the EPA’s most protective bacteria threshold designed to safeguard the health of swimmers on at least one day last year, according to corrected data in the report. Of those, 546 locations were potentially unsafe on at least one-quarter of the days on which bacterial testing was conducted. The study looked at fecal contamination at beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states as well as Puerto Rico. 

“We take our role as an organization dedicated to protecting the places we love and advancing the environmental values we share very seriously,” said Environment Iliinois Research & Policy Center’s Hannah Kim.  “Every Illinoisan should be able to go to the beach and swim without worrying about the water’s impact on their health or the health of their children and we remain firmly committed to that goal.”

The report includes several recommendations to prevent bacterial pollution and keep our beaches safe for swimming. Rain barrels, rooftop gardens, permeable pavement and urban green space can all absorb stormwater runoff and prevent sewage overflows. Congress is now considering legislation to increase funding for such “green infrastructure” projects through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

staff | TPIN

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