Bizarre Places: Bubbly Creek in Chicago, Illinois


Bubbly Creek Headwaters, Courtesy of the USGS

Of all the polluted waterways in the United States, Chicago's Bubbly Creek ranks among the most bizarre. It is a dead end branch of the Chicago River that is officially the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River. It is nicknamed Bubbly Creek due to a consequence of horrendous levels of pollution that have been dumped into it -- bubbles. It is about 1.3 miles of near stagnant evidence of the absolute need for environmental regulations.

The reason for the pollution in Bubbly Creek is the former negligence of Chicago's stockyards that were situated by the creek, particularly the Union Stock Yard. Roughly 100 years ago, an untold amount of waste was openly dumped into the creek. Among this waste were the unused portions of animal carcasses, such as blood, intestines and fat/grease. As the waste decomposed, it released bubbles of gasses, including methane and hydrogen sulfide. Bubbly Creek was essentially farting the smell of rotten eggs. It is not quite a bubbling witch's brew, but one can easily imagine the awful stench it emitted and still sometimes emits to this day.

According to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," the creek was so polluted that it used to catch fire. Grease congealed at the top, hair lined its edges and it was an environmental nightmare. Today, the meatpacking pollution does not continue, but the issue of Bubbly Creek is merely one of a number of water pollution issues Chicago is dealing with, such as the dumping of raw sewage into waterways, including the Chicago River and, in turn, Bubbly Creek. It is a wonder anyone lives there.