County still testing for E. coli
By Russell Lissau
The Daily Herald
The Lake County Board and other local agencies will pay
for DNA testing this summer to investigate why dangerous
bacteria appears occasionally along the Lake Michigan
shoreline, forcing closure of area beaches.
Public health experts long have thought most of the E.
coli bacteria that taints the water at the beaches comes
from gull droppings, a hypothesis confirmed by a DNA study
The new tests will be performed with samples taken during
peak summer months, when high levels of E. coli usually
are discovered at the beaches. Officials say that should
better indicate the source of the bacteria.
Once officials definitively know the source of the germs,
they can create a plan to make the beaches safer for visitors.
"(If) you identify what the source is, hopefully
you can do something about it," said county board
Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt, a Lake Villa Republican.
The county board agreed Tuesday to contribute $5,000
to a new clean water trust fund that will pay for DNA
testing of samples taken at various points along the lakeshore.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, North Shore
Sanitary District, Illinois Department of Public Health
and other agencies also are participating in the effort
as part of a new water testing review panel.
The fund and panel were created by state Sen. Susan Garrett,
a Lake Forest Democrat who started studying the E. coli
problem last year.
"Our most valuable natural resource is Lake Michigan,
and included in that (are) the beaches," Garrett
said Tuesday. "We need to be absolutely sure what
is causing these high bacteria contaminations."
E. coli bacteria annually infects 73,000 people in the
United States, causing about 61 deaths each year, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infection can occur from swimming in sewage-contaminated
water, drinking raw milk, eating insufficiently cooked
beef and person-to-person contact. It can cause bloody
diarrhea, stomach cramps and kidney failure.
The Lake County Health Department checks for E. coli
at nine public beaches along Lake Michigan and, starting
this year, the private beach at Great Lakes Naval Training
Station near North Chicago.
Last summer, beaches were closed 205 times due to elevated
E. coli readings, according to the health department.
Nearly half of those closings were at two beaches, Waukegan's
South Beach and the North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor.
A study performed last fall indicated gulls were to blame
for most of the E. coli contamination that caused the
summer's closings. Human sewage was identified as a source
of E. coli at one beach.
Between May 22 and July 2 of this year, the health department
has shut down the lake's public beaches 42 times because
of bacteria. The Great Lakes beach has been shut down
The most recent closings occurred Tuesday at Illinois
Beach State Park's southern beach and Rosewood Beach in
Highland Park, said Mark Pfister, an aquatic biologist
with the health department.
With money from Garrett's clean water fund, experts at
the University of Washington will conduct the DNA tests
from samples taken after high E. coli levels are discovered.
Those samples will be compared with biological samples
the university has identified, which should help distinguish
the local contaminant.
If, as expected, gulls are to blame, solutions could
include using other animals or machines to keep the birds
away, Schmidt said.