UIC Researchers Measure Health Effects of Chicago’s Waterways

UIC Podcast
UIC Podcast
UIC Researchers Measure Health Effects of Chicago's Waterways

News Release


[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today, Dr. Samuel Dorevitch, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences in the UIC School of Public, talks about a study to determine the health effects associated with recreational activities such as boating, canoeing, kayaking and fishing on Chicago’s waterways.

Here’s professor Dorevitch:

[Dorevitch] I’ll be telling you about a research study that I’m doing called CHEERS, which stands for the Chicago Health, Environmental Exposure, and Recreation Study.

CHEERS is an epidemiologic study of recreation on water, so we enroll people who are doing activities like rowing, paddling, boating and fishing on waters throughout the Chicago area and we follow them over time to see if people are getting sick and what they’re getting sick from and we also have a comparison group of people who are outdoors on the same days at about the same places doing recreational activity that doesn’t involve water. And by comparing the two we’ll learn about the short term health effects of water recreation, specifically looking for symptoms of infection such as gastrointestinal infections, skin infections or other skin conditions, as well as eye, ear and respiratory conditions.

Within the water exposed group we have two subgroups. One group is doing water recreation on the Chicago River system and that includes the Cal-Sag Channel and the North Branch and North Shore Channel of the Chicago River system. That system has three water reclamation plants on it, which discharge treated waste water into the cannels.

There are other sites where we recruit people that don’t have this type of point-source pollution and that would be Lake Michigan at beaches and recreation areas within the city of Chicago. We also enroll people in the research on the Fox River, the DesPlaines River and several small inland lakes such as Tampier Lake and the Busse Woods Lake, and the Skokie lagoons and Crystal Lake.

One of the unique aspects of this research is that we study activities other than swimming. There have been epidemiologic studies like ours that look at the acute health effects of swimming but the activities that we look at haven’t been studied before.

Our study involves some novel ways of measuring exposure to water. And that new study module is the basis, in part, for the new funding that we’ve received for this project. We study how much water people swallow when they’re doing recreational activity and we’ll also be measuring how much water people’s skin comes in contact with through splashes and we also measure how much water is in the air as an aerosol and these types of measurements have not previously been part of an epidemiologic study.

Another unique aspect of the study is that we measure the pathogens that cause disease in the water. Most prior research – essentially all research up to around 1990 – looked primarily at what we call indicators of sewage pollution in the water. And people who live in Chicago know that occasionally the beaches are closed because of high E. coli levels. It’s not usually E. coli that makes people sick, but the presence of E. coli in the water indicates that there may be sewage contamination.

Besides measuring bacteria like E. coli, we also measure the pathogens, things like Giardia and Cryptosporidium and Norovirus that actually do make people sick.

So far we’ve enrolled about 7,700 people in this project between 2007 and 2008. We’re going to begin field work again in 2009 in April and continue through the beginning of August. Hopefully, by the end of the project we’ll have over 10,000 people enrolled in the study.

This research is funded by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and we will have a final report for them by December 2010.

[Writer] Dr. Samuel Dorevitch is research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences.

For more information about this research, go to www-dot-news-dot- uic-dot-edu (www.today.uic.edu) … click on “news releases.” … and look for the release dated March 23, 2009.

This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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