Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Receives Top Research Award

Representatives from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) attending the American Academy of Environmental Engineers’ conference last month came home holding the grand prize for university research.

The MWRD funded the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) research which focused on the health risks associated with recreation on Chicago waterways. MWRD Monitoring and Research Director Thomas Granato directed the study, and Samuel Dorevitch, Associate Professor of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the UIC School of Public Health, conducted the three-year epidemiologic study.

“Few wastewater treatment agencies make research a priority in the way that the MWRD does,” said Dorevitch. “It’s been challenging and interesting to work on a health study of this scale that addresses a local environmental policy decision. It’s rewarding to see the findings published so that others in the community of water quality researchers can learn from the work we’ve done.”

MWRD Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, chairman of the Monitoring and Research Committee, recognized the unique nature of the study. “The CHEERS (Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study) study was the first in the country to address the health risks to individuals who engaged in incidental contact water recreational activities such as boating, fishing and rowing,” Spyropoulos explained.

The health information of the participants were compared with water quality tests for indicators and pathogens during the same time at regional lakes and rivers. The study found that secondary contact recreation on the CAWS is not any riskier than on other nearby rivers or lakes. This will be further improved when disinfection is implemented.

Dr. Geeta Rijal, MWRD Supervising Environmental Microbiologist, said the study was driven by the quest for the great unknown about the current health risks to people recreating on the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), which includes the Cal-Sag Channel, the North and South Branches of the Chicago River, the Main Stem of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel. The system was designed to connect Lake Michigan to the Illinois River via the Des Plaines River, and used for transportation, commerce and to take stormwater away from the lake.

Wastewater treatment plants release treated wastewater into the CAWS, and the research study was conducted to better understand the benefits that might be realized if the MWRD resumed disinfection of wastewater effluents at its North Side and Calumet water reclamation plants and to determine appropriate water quality criteria to protect secondary contact recreation. Since the study was conducted, MWRD’s Commissioners have instituted a policy to implement disinfection at these treatment facilities.

“The MWRD is well known for developing the science on issues through productive collaboration, and this study adds to a rich body of work,” said David St. Pierre, MWRD executive director. “We are thrilled that the MWRD and UIC received this prestigious recognition.”

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