How Chicago Toilets Lead to Gulf ‘Dead Zone’

By Gabriel Spitzer
April 2, 2009; Chicago Public Radio

New research finds that Chicago-area pollution is the biggest contributor to a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The culprit may be what you flush.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey find that Chicago’s watershed pours the most nitrogen and phosphorus into the Mississippi. Those nutrients cause huge algae blooms that suck oxygen out of the Gulf water. The result: a virtually lifeless zone nearly the size of New Jersey.

Albert Ettinger of the Environmental Law and Policy Center says Chicago’s contribution mostly comes from treated sewage. He says the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District needs to do more to remove the pollutants.

ETTINGER: The Water Reclamation District is going to have to make a better effort to protect the Mississippi system and the Gulf of Mexico. And that’s going to involve some increased wastewater treatment.

District spokeswoman Jill Horist says officials are still looking at the new research. But she says Chicago surely isn’t the sole cause of the Gulf dead zone.