Is it safe?


Diving into the lake this summer has been a risky venture :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

photo courtesy of Beachwalk Resort

If the city beaches are closed, you could try the other side of the lake. This is the Beachwalk Resort in Michigan City, Ind.

It's test, test, test this summer-but the testing has nothing to do with math skills or sentence structure. Instead, officials are testing the water at the beaches in the Chicago area in a search for bacteria Escherichia coli or E. coli.

By July 8 of this year, swimming had been banned 92 times at Chicago's beaches, compared with 130 times for all of 2003. A decade ago, swimming was banned only 10 times at Lake Michigan beaches, according to the Lake Michigan Federation.

More testing is being done than ever before, which always increases the odds of finding something. The 32 Chicago beaches and the 11 in Lake County are tested daily. The 15 Will County beaches and 40 in McHenry are tested every other week. The three Dupage County beaches are tested every two to three weeks or when a health complaint is received.

"The more you look, the more you find," says Joel Brammeier, the federation's acting executive director. "[But] we've got a consistent problem in Illinois."

So what's a beach-bound family to do once the minivan is loaded and the announcement comes that the lake is off limits?

Nancy Meyer of Beverly, has a back-up plan that includes coloring books and sand shovels to keep her 10-year-old daughter and a friend busy for the day. For Gayle Bryan of Hyde Park and her daughter Ally, 6, any day at the beach revolves around water. When the lake is off limits, they splash in the fountain at the 63rd Street Beach.

"We're stuck in the sand," she says.

As the mercury rises and the sand heats up, it's tempting to dip a toe in the cooling lake waters. Don't. According to Illinois Department of Public Health spokesperson Tammy Leonard, venturing into E. coli-contaminated water can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, headache, low-grade fever and sometimes skin rashs or earaches.

• For a list of Chicago's swim bans, call the Chicago Park District at (312) 742-PLAY (7529) or visit

• For McHenry's, call (815) 334-4585 or visit

• Lake County's swim bans are at (847) 377-8030 or visit

• In Will County, call (815) 727-5088.

And if a swim ban forces you to stay on the beach, check out these Web sites for ideas and tips on how to build incredible sandcastles:

• The World Championships of Sand Sculpture,

• Sand Castle Central,

• Team Sandtastic,

Graham Johnston

Kids Eat Chicago

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