Chicago Green Jobs

Dyeing the Chicago River: A Morality Tale
March 16, 2009, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Event

Ah Monday, the critically important buffer day between the weekend’s St. Patrick’s day celebrations and Tuesday’s actual holiday.  I hope everyone is drinking lots of water.

This is my first St. Patrick’s day in town, so of course I moseyed on down to check out the dyeing of the Chicago river on Saturday. I have to admit, I really enjoyed the spectacle – the whole thing made me feel like the river had been cut and pasted from a Simpson’s episode.  I kept expecting Blinky, Springfield’s special three eyed fish, to jump out and take a bow.  Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what effect the dye was having on the actual fish in the river. So I looked it up!

Get this: for the first four years of the green river tradition (1962-66), the privately funded parade committee dumped fluorescein into the river.  Fluorescein is a very cool looking little chemical that is primarily used in biochemical research these days. Side effects? Nausea, vomiting, hives, anaphylaxis, and SUDDEN DEATH. Apparently, the parade committe used 100 pounds of the stuff in 1962, and the river stayed green for a week.  Success!

According to one Illinois tourism site, the fluorescein use ended because “environmentalists complained” in 1966 and the EPA came in and ruined everybody’s fun. It turns out that there are lots of goldfish in the Chicago river, and that even though goldfish are famously tolerant of pollution and small children they are total quitters when it comes to fluorescein. Fortunately, the parade committee figured out how to achieve the same effect with 40 pounds of vegetable dye.

The moral of the story? Regulation works! Once government drew the line at dumping poison into the river for kicks, the private sector figured out a way to provide a hilariously green river sans nausea. As a result, today St. Patrick’s day vomiting in Chicago is based on individual choice rather than institutional practice. Go America!


1 Comment so far
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How can someone not have commented on a post that includes the personal choice to vomit?

Great story and the goldfish are grateful.

Comment by Artemesia

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