Swim Safely!

Staff report

Memorial Day traditionally marks the unofficial start of summer. Lake County residents will soon be heading for lakes and beaches.  Before you go, make sure you check to see if your favorite beach is open for swimming.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, daily information is available about local Lake Michigan and inland lake swim bans through the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center’s website by visiting http://www.lakecountyil.gov/2385/Beach-Advisory.  The Health Department is also sending information about Lake Michigan swim bans to the Great Lakes Commission, which has created a free phone application called myBeachCast available at http://glin.net/beachcast/ for beaches in the eight Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The phone app not only tells whether the beach is open or closed, but also provides the temperature, humidity, visibility and wind speed at each beach.

“The health department’s Lakes Management Unit monitors just over 100 Lake Michigan and inland lake beaches throughout the summer to ensure that the water is acceptable for swimming,” said Mike Adam, senior biologist with the LCHD/Community Health Center. “When our water sampling tests indicate a high bacteria count, a swim ban is issued to keep people out of the water until the water quality improves. High bacteria counts may be caused by storm water runoff, sewage overflow, nearby septic failure, or large quantities of droppings from geese or seagulls.”

Throughout the summer staff from the LCHD samples 13 beaches along Lake Michigan four days per week. The web page is updated daily by 10 a.m. These beaches include:

  • North Point Marina Beach Winthrop Harbor
  • Illinois Beach State Park North Beach Zion
  • Illinois Beach State Park South Beach Zion
  • Illinois Beach State Park Resort Beach Zion
  • Waukegan North Beach Waukegan
  • Waukegan South Beach Waukegan
  • Lake Bluff Dog Beach Lake Bluff
  • Lake Bluff Sunrise Beach Lake Bluff
  • Forest Park Beach Lake Forest
  • Moraine Dog Beach Highland Park
  • Park Avenue Beach Highland Park
  • Central Avenue Beach Highland Park
  • Rosewood Beach Highland Park

In addition to monitoring swimming beaches along Lake Michigan in Lake County, the health department also monitors about 90 licensed beaches on inland lakes, including the Chain O’Lakes.

Test samples taken from lakes each summer exceed the water quality standards approximately 10 percent of the time. When bacteria levels in the water are high, the health department notifies the beach’s manager and a sign is posted indicating a swim ban is in place. Since elevated bacteria levels may result in lake water after a rainfall that washes pollutants into the lake, the health department advises residents to avoid swimming after a large rain event.

Most swimming related illnesses typically cause short-term health problems and usually are not reported to or treated by health providers. The most common illness is gastroenteritis, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain that typically develops one to two days after exposure. Other illnesses include ear, eye, nose and throat infections. Skin parasites such as ringworm and schistosomiasis (swimmers itch) can be transmitted in areas of water degradation. Although there are many serious illnesses transmitted through water, swimmers are rarely exposed to these more serious diseases in the United States.

LCHD also wants people to avoid other hazards when swimming in our lakes this summer. In Lake Michigan, don’t swim during times of heavy surf, including high waves, which can overpower even the strongest swimmer.  On inland lakes, occasional harmful algae blooms may occur. Avoid areas where the water has a green or blue-green appearance.  Report any algae blooms to the LCHD.

For more information on beach monitoring call the Environmental Services branch of LCHD at 847.377.8030 .

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