How clean is Lake Michigan?
Lake Michigan is one of the Chicago area's most prized features, but is it safe for people?
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 12:14
BLUE HORIZON: The skyline of Chicago, as seen from across the waters of Lake Michigan. (Photo: LHOON/Flickr)
Lake Michigan is one of the most important natural features in the northern Illinois area. We get our water from it, and it is also a major attraction for tourists. When you look at it on a sunny day, it appears pristine and blue, reflecting the color of the sky. However, even though it looks pretty, Lake Michigan may not be as pure as it looks. Many things affect the cleanliness of Lake Michigan, and even though many people happily swim in it, that may not be as safe as it seems.
Lake Michigan is used as a place to dump many toxic materials, even though this negatively affects the lake's ecosystem and the people who use the lake. There are more laws about this now than before, and the lake is cleaner than it used to be, but it is still very dirty. Many industrial companies — who have no place to dispose of the waste they create — dump the waste in the lake, where it "disappears." It disappears for them, at least, since they don't have to care about it anymore. However, it still affects the lake, as well as everything that lives in and around the lake.
One of the main problems Lake Michigan faces is dumping of sewage. Not only is the material in sewage toxic and not good for anything that lives in the lake, it also fosters growth of harmful bacteria. This is why Chicago's beaches are sometimes closed. On especially hot days, bacteria growth becomes too great, and it becomes dangerous to swim in such dirty water.
Pollution from streams and rivers is also a major problem for Lake Michigan. Anything that gets dumped into the streams and rivers in the Chicago area, as well as the wetlands, eventually finds its way into Lake Michigan. This is an especially big problem, because the Clean Water Act contains loopholes, allowing much more pollution to be deposited in rivers and streams than in the lake itself. Even though less is allowed to be dumped in the lake, this large amount of pollution from streams ends up making its way into the lake anyway.
So, even though it appears pristine, Lake Michigan is not as clean as it appears. We are gradually polluting this lake less, and it was much worse a few decades ago, but it still has a long way to go. Be careful when you swim, and if you get water from the lake, be sure to filter it first.
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