Members of the Recovery on Water breast cancer survivors rowing crew practice on the Chicago River twice a week and launch their boats from the area where the South Fork diverts from the South Branch. The South Fork is also known as "Bubbly Creek." The historically polluted area gets its nickname from the bubbling gases of decomposing waste in the water - leftovers disposed of in the river by meatpacking businesses in the Union Stock Yards area in the early 20th century.
"The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide." -Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 1906
In the present day, the area has recovered somewhat, but Bubbly Creek still takes on water and waste from oversaturated sewers during heavy rainstorms, causing dangerously high levels of bacteria. The women of Recovery on Water are sure to use hand sanitizer directly after practice and change clothes and bathe immediately when they get home.
This isn't the only area of the Chicago River that poses serious health risks. Read Michael Hawthorne's story on the state of the Chicago River here.