Rebecca Williams

Reporter/Producer - The Environment Report

Rebecca has a natural science degree from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources & Environment, where she had close encounters with escaped boars and poison sumac. Before getting into radio, Rebecca snapped photos of Mongolian diatoms and published a few papers in obscure scientific journals.

Now she spends her days reporting on everything from hungry watersnakes to heritage turkeys to people who live in 300 square foot houses.

She’s won several national awards for her work including a first place National Headliner Award at the network level for her stories on the uber-destructive emerald ash borer.

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

The Flint water crisis has uncovered all kinds of details about how cities test the safety of their drinking water.

In particular, critics say the state is giving bad advice on testing drinking water for lead.

The state of Michigan tells cities to do something called pre-flushing.

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

The Flint water crisis will be part of a public meeting this week in Virginia about federal rules on lead.

The National Drinking Water Advisory Council is holding meetings tomorrow through Thursday to develop recommendations for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is working on changing its rules on lead and copper in water. Those rules have been scrutinized lately because of Flint’s problems with lead in drinking water.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard has been responding to a leaky shipwreck on the bottom of western Lake Erie.

The shipwreck is believed to be the Argo. It’s a tank barge that sank in 1937 and it’s considered the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.


Snowy owls are doing some unusual things again this year.

The last two winters, people in Michigan saw a lot of them. There were big migrations of owls called irruptions – that’s when they fly south from their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

This year, researchers don’t expect those big numbers again, but they are surprised by how early owls are arriving.

Most snowy owls start arriving here in the middle of November into December, but owls started showing up in the Great Lakes region in mid-October this year.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard says it has not found any active oil leaks from a 78-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck site is 12 miles northeast of Sandusky.

The tank barge is believed to be the Argo. Records show it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil when it sank. No one knows what's still on board, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the Argo to be the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Gord Cole

A report on fish farming in the Great Lakes suggests Michigan should move carefully if it allows the industry to start up.

State officials asked a panel of scientists to study the issue. There have been two proposals from companies that want to start raising rainbow trout in net pens in the Great Lakes.

Canadians raise millions of trout in Lake Huron every year and some people want Michigan to do the same.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The Coast Guard is investigating a leak from a 78-year-old tank barge in western Lake Erie that's believed to be the Argo.

It sank in a storm in 1937.

Tom Kowalczk, CLUE

Update - Monday, October 26, 10:10 a.m.:

The Coast Guard is sending out a crew from Station Marblehead in Ohio along with members of the Atlantic Strike Team from New Jersey to the wreck site this morning. They'll start doing air monitoring at the site. 

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher M. Yaw says the team will work to get a "good, clean sample" of the unknown substance that appears to be leaking from the barge so they can identify it.

Keith Grasman, Calvin College. / From USFWS Field Notes site

Researchers are finding flame retardants and stain repellent chemicals in herring gull eggs in the Great Lakes region.

These chemicals are used in a lot of consumer products, but they can last a long time in the environment and some of them can build up in the food web.

Two recent studies on perfluorinated chemicals and flame retardants found some newer forms of these chemicals in the birds’ eggs that we don’t know a lot about.

USGS GLSC Dive Team, Michigan Sea Grant

There are 12 toxic hot spots in Michigan called Areas of Concern.

These are places in the Great Lakes basin where pollution and development have damaged the ecosystems.

The Detroit River is on this list. Before the Clean Water Act, industries on the river treated it as a dumping ground – think waste in the billions of gallons.

Flickr user Kenneth Lu / Flickr -

Michigan lawmakers are talking about banning tiny balls of plastic in products sold in Michigan.

A lot of us use products with microbeads in them. They’re tiny, perfectly round plastic beads that companies add to face and body scrubs and toothpaste.

We wash them down the drain, but they’re so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

This week, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write new rules for the ballast water in ships.

Four environmental groups sued the EPA over its current ballast water rule.

Invasive species can get into the Great Lakes in ballast water. Salties are ships that cross the ocean, and lakers are ships that travel only within the Great Lakes. In the decision, the judges criticize the EPA for exempting lakers from certain regulations. 

Sarah Razak / Flickr -

Confused about corrosion control? We were too.

In Flint, lead levels in some children's blood have spiked dramatically. Scientists believe the Flint River is part of the problem. Flint switched from Detroit’s water system and started pulling water from the Flint River last year.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There are more than 180 species in the Great Lakes that are not supposed to be here.

Euan Reavie is a researcher with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“Duluth-Superior harbor is the most invaded freshwater port in the world,” Reavie says. “This is kind of the end of the water road for a lot of ships that come in here.”

A female green frog. Researchers are finding more females than males in suburbia.
Geoff Giller / Yale University

Past studies have found strange things happening to frogs when they’re exposed to farm chemicals. A new study shows estrogen in suburban areas is messing with frogs’ hormonal systems too.


The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has released its first status report on the wetlands in our state. 

You can think of wetlands as nature’s kidneys — they filter water.

Wetlands also help control floodwater and all kinds of creatures live in them.

John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson / Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study

There are just three wolves left on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.  And researchers estimate there are 1,250 moose.  

The National Park Service is deciding whether or not to step in.

The park service is in the early stages of creating a management plan for the wolves and moose on the island.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

Invasive species love to sneak a ride on boats.

There are more than 180 exotic species in the Great Lakes, and we help move them around.

Jo Latimore is an outreach specialist with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

“Research has shown that boats and trailers moving from one lake to another are the number one vector, the number one pathway of invasive species moving from one water body to the next,” she says.

Flickr user PROUSFWSmidwest / Flickr

Each invasive sea lamprey can kill 40 pounds of fish a year in the Great Lakes.

We spend more than $28 million in federal money each year to control the lampreys (according to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, $20.9 million goes to sea lamprey control measures and more than $3 million is spent on sea lamprey research).

Michael Wagner is an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

He’s one of the researchers at MSU testing out ways to attract sea lampreys into traps.


There’s a tree killer on the loose.

It’s called the Asian longhorned beetle. It has a shiny black body with white spots, and really long antennae.

It’s not known to be in Michigan yet, but the pest has invaded Ohio. So officials want you to keep your eyes open.

Rhonda Santos is with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She says we should be on the lookout for the beetles in our yards and community spaces.

Flickr user Andy Rogers / Flickr

If you’re eating right now, you might want to take a little break.

We’re going to take a moment to talk about fecal bacteria.

Researchers at Michigan State University have done some detective work on septic tanks in Michigan, and they’ve found these tanks are leaking bacteria.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

There’s a bloom of cyanobacteria in Lake Erie right now. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting it could become the second worst on record.

Riding down the Kalamazoo River on a tube. As part of a settlement with the state, Enbridge built access points to the river. Those who know the river say they're seeing more people enjoying it these days.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history happened right here in Michigan. Now that five years have passed, we checked in with people who were affected by the spill.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 6B broke open on July 25, 2010. The massive oil spill changed life for a lot of people in the small town of Marshall and along the Kalamazoo River.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

You might’ve heard about cougars being spotted in Michigan. There are also cougars out west and there’s the Florida panther. But what we’re talking about here is something called the eastern cougar.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Especially in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. They burned everything from tires, batteries, and plastic to human and medical waste.

Curtis Gibson is an Air Force veteran. He served in Afghanistan in late 2011.

“I’d see things floating in the air — burned papers — you see them floating through the air so you know you’re taking something in,” Gibson says.

He says he had a medical exam when he came home to Detroit.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

In Afghanistan and Iraq, especially in the early years, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. 

“A burn pit’s just a big hole in the ground. You push dirt up and just have trash there, and light it on fire and walk away,” says Army veteran Eric Mullins.

Mullins and I met up in Campus Martius Park in Detroit, near where he works.

He served in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2008. On his first tour, he was assigned to burn barrels of human waste.

Flickr / bitznbitez

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the state of Michigan, other states, and industry groups in a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions rules.

The justices ruled the EPA was unreasonable when it refused to consider costs in its initial decision to regulate mercury emissions from power plants.

Read the Supreme Court's ruling in Michigan vs. EPA here.

flickr user Andres Pérez / Flickr

Scientists study chemicals for their potential to cause cancer, but usually they examine them one at a time.

And yet, we’re exposed to mixtures of different chemicals every day.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission

If you ever get a chance to meet a sea lamprey, you won’t forget it.

They look like an eel but they’re actually a fish. They have a suction cup for a face, with hundreds of razor sharp teeth.

Aerial photo of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine Ontario.
Chuck Szmurlo / Wikimedia Commons

The decision on a nuclear waste storage site near Lake Huron has been kicked down the road a bit.