Recreational activities, such as swimming, fishing, and boating, where individuals are exposed to untreated water in natural habitats can be potentially dangerous. It is not unusual for fecal matter to be suspended in the water column of lakes and rivers. Animal feces contain bacteria that can be human pathogens. Therefore, people participating in these activities may unintentionally expose themselves to infectious agents. Water quality is routinely determined by the detection of coliform bacteria. The presence of these organisms indicates that fecal contamination has occurred, which suggests that infectious agents are in the body of water.
The purpose of the study is to sample recreational areas in Cook and Will Counties for the presence of coliform bacteria. The testable hypothesis is people who engage in leisure activities at these sites are consistently exposed to pathogens at dangerous levels throughout the year. Coliforms will be detected in the samples using water quality tests utilized by the Ilinois EPA. Bacteria will be identified in positive samples using standard molecular biology techniques in order to determine the species, and possibly bacterial strains, inhabiting these waters.