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Is it time to stop dyeing the Chicago River for St. Patrick’s Day?

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One group says that it’s time to stop the annual tradition of dyeing the river green

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Ian Freimuth

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicago, and to help get residents and visitors into the spirit, every year the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers, Local 130 oversees the dyeing of the main stem of the Chicago River to a bright green. The dyeing of the river is a tradition that dates back to the early 1960s, and while the plumbers union claims that the occasional use of vegetable dye to get the effect doesn’t seem to be toxic or permanently damaging to the river, the nonprofit group Friends of the Chicago River says that it’s time to bring the tradition to an end, Loop North News reports.

According to Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism bureau, 45 pounds of vegetable-based dye is used to give the Chicago River a florescent green effect which lasts up to five hours. Choose Chicago estimates that nearly 400,000 people gather along the Chicago River to watch the event which always takes place in the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

However, Friends of the Chicago River tells Loop North News that the practice should be reconsidered, especially when taking into account that the river is a complex ecosystem with dozens of species of fish and plants. In addition, the group questions the makeup of the orange powder used to dye the river citing that no permit has ever been issued for the event and that the EPA has never tested the substance used by the plumbers union.

In recent years, public and private agencies and businesses have looked to a cleaner Chicago River as a popular space for recreation and commerce. Recent efforts like the Chicago Riverwalk extension and the redevelopment of Wolf Point, the former Finkl Steel property, and the Lathrop Homes all look to the Chicago River as a vital component for leisure and recreation. And as these developments evolve, it’s clear that a vibrant and healthy Chicago River will remain an important asset to the city.