Near Zion, Illinois, sits the Illinois Beach State Park. This beach has been the site of fear and controversy since a finding in 2008 reported that the area might have been contaminated by asbestos. After a year of studies, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta stated in their 36-page report, “recreational use of the beach is not expected to harm people’s health.”
The CDC’s findings were met with controversy. At the time of the report, the agency was under fire. It was being investigated by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight for “bad science.”
According to Paul Kakuris, president of the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society, the CDC was downplaying the real dangers of the asbestos at Illinois Beach State Park by rigging the tests. He says that the CDC was using the same faulty scientific basis to run their tests and draw conclusions about the area used by other state and federal agencies that also claimed that the beach was safe. A complaint about the CDC was also filed with the U.S. Inspector General’s Office.
The asbestos-laden refuse on the beach seems to have stemmed from the Johns-Manville coal-fired plant on Waukegan’s shore. A major asbestos finding at the plant in 1991 prompted massive cleanup efforts, but the nearest publicly accessible location, a fishing pier, has been closed off by a chain link fence and asbestos warnings since 1991. Officials claims that the pier is safe, but since liability is being dodged by all involved parties, the fishing pier remains closed to public use.
The Illinois Beach State Park has remained continuously open to the public despite the asbestos controversy surrounding it. If the beach is truly toxic, symptoms of serious asbestos-related diseases will not appear until decades in the future, and then it will be too late to either save the victim’s life or to prevent others from the same fate.
Kakuris’s group continued to seek oversight for the agencies he claimed were just placating people by making them feel safe, even amidst possible deadly asbestos exposure.
The scientists at the CDC and other state and federal agencies believe that their science is sound and that the public should have no fear of using the beach.
Until a consensus can be reached, both sides will continue to wage war over the trustworthiness of scientific studies with the Illinois Beach State Park with the people who use it caught in the middle.