The Environment Report

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The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan. Send us your story ideas by following the link above!

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The Environment Report
11:17 am
Thu July 24, 2014

After 4 years, major cleanup on the Kalamazoo River coming to a close

Workers assess damage at Enbridge oil spill site in 2010. The major aspects of the cleanup are expected to be wrapped up this summer.
EPA

Steve Hamilton talks about what we've learned about cleaning up tar sands oil and the questions that remain.

It's been four years since the Enbridge pipeline Line 6B broke, creating the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

More than a million gallons of tar sands oil have been cleaned up from Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. This summer, crews are dredging areas of Morrow Lake.

Steve Hamilton is a professor of ecosystem ecology at the Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University. He’s served as an independent scientific advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency throughout the cleanup. I talked with him for today's Environment Report.

A few years ago, right in the heart of the cleanup, an EPA official said the agency was "writing the book" on how to remove tar sands oil from the bottom of a river.

Hamilton agrees: "First, before it even got to the bottom, we learned that in the first year, it stuck to surfaces of plants and debris that made a tarry mess that largely had to be manually removed." 

He says it was the removal of the submerged oil that made the cleanup last as long as it has.

"It is so incredibly difficult to remove submerged oil from a complex river, extending over nearly 40 miles."

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The Environment Report
11:44 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Carbon tax finds bipartisan support when funds are delegated to a specific cause

Some people think a tax on carbon dioxide is a good market-based approach to tackling climate change because it would require larger companies, such as power plants, to pay for their emissions. But it's a tough sell politically.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Economists often argue that we should use the market to fight climate change. Cap-and-trade legislation died in Congress back in 2010.  Some people think a tax on carbon dioxide is a better solution, but that would require large companies to pay for their carbon emissions.

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The Environment Report
11:38 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Climate change fueling increase in pollen, allergies

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/images/indicator_downloads/ragweed-download1-2014.png

Today's Environment Report examines the link between allergies and climate change

If even hearing the word “ragweed” makes your eyes water, you might be one of the nearly 45 million Americans with seasonal allergies. Researchers say climate change is fueling the rise in allergies and asthma.

Jenny Fischer has been taking over-the-counter medication for allergies for a long time. Without it, she suffers cold-like symptoms: a runny nose, sneezing and congestion. An allergy pill usually made it better. But a couple of years ago, things started to get worse.

“I’d be out at 5:30 in the morning walking my dog, and it would just be huffing and puffing. And, you know, I couldn’t catch my breath. It's scary," she said.

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The Environment Report
2:02 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Researchers predict smaller algae problem in Lake Erie this year

Algae blooms are predicted to be smaller in Lake Erie in 2014. Last year's bloom was large due to a relatively wet spring followed by a wet July.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

 

Listen to today's Environment Report: fracking rules and algae forecast

The forecast is in: the green goo will be back on Lake Erie this year, but it won’t be as bad as last year.

The big, ugly algal blooms happen when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants. Some of these kinds of algae produce toxins can harm pets and make the water unsafe to drink.

Rick Stumpf is an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says they’re predicting this year’s bloom in Lake Erie will be significant, but not as bad as it has been in recent years. The blooms reached a record level in 2011.

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The Environment Report
8:46 am
Tue July 15, 2014

DEQ holding public hearings on fracking rules tonight and Wednesday

Credit World Resources Institute

State officials want to hear what you think about fracking.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants to update the state’s rules on hydraulic fracturing. The DEQ is holding two public hearings this week on the proposed changes.

Hal Fitch is the chief of the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

“Starting about 2008, we started hearing increased public concerns. So we met with the environmental community, we met with the public in over 200 different forums and heard those concerns and formulated these rules based on what we were hearing,” he says.

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The Environment Report
2:55 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Is the hybrid hype dying down?

Data shows that sales are down for hybrids like the Ford C-Max.
Ford Motor Company

The Environment Report, Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

People may talk about wanting to be environmentally friendly but, when it comes to buying new cars, the data show they aren't spending their green on being green.

Car buyers don’t actually end up buying hybrids and electrics even though they say it’s important to them.

"Hybrids and plugins tend to be more expensive," says Sonari Glinton, NPR’s auto reporter. The advance drive market [hybrids, electric vehicles, plugin hybrids] has accounted for 3.6% of the market in the first half of 2014, a decline when compared to 3.8 % in the first half of 2013. Glinton says this market plateau is partially because shoppers are acclimating to higher gas prices. He thinks the other reason is "the novelty of these [hybrid] cars has worn off, so it's not like there's a big new electric car that people are like 'oh I gotta go out and buy that car.' "

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The Environment Report
11:18 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Bass getting fat on invasive fish

A goby in Lake Michigan. Bass are getting bigger gorging on this invasive species.
Joi Ito Flickr

The Environment Report for Thursday, July 10, 2014- A bigger bass

The bass are getting fat.

Lake Michigan was recently recognized as one of the best places in America to fish for bass. The booming fishery is one sign of what might be a major shift of the lake’s food web.

But that change is being driven by an increase in goby, an invasive species. And it could spell trouble for salmon— the most popular sport fish in Lake Michigan.  

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 5)
8:30 am
Fri July 4, 2014

One congressman has kept us in the dark about the health risks of arsenic

Rep. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho, delayed the U.S. EPA's health assessment on arsenic.
Credit wikimedia commons

Michigan's Silent Poison Part V

Arsenic occurs naturally, and Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

Arsenic was also used in insecticides for many years and it's still being used in some weed killers.

David Heath is a senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, and he investigated why a health assessment on arsenic from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been delayed.

Why does this health assessment matter?

Heath said when the EPA first wants to determine how dangerous a toxic chemical is, they first do the science. These assessments can take a long time and the arsenic assessment has been going on for more than a decade.

"It's not until they have done the science to figure out exactly how dangerous a chemical is that they can really take action on it," Heath said. "So it really does come down to 'this is how they protect your health.'"

A single member of Congress, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was able to intentionally delay the EPA's health assessment for years.

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Environment & Science
10:45 am
Thu July 3, 2014

What should we do about the arsenic in our food? Experts say vary your diet, research ongoing

A rice farm in California. These test plots are being used by rice farmers to find ways to limit the amount of arsenic getting into rice.
FDA

All this week, we’ve been talking about the potential for elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater in Michigan.

The upshot of our reports:

  1. Arsenic levels in Michigan’s groundwater can be high.
  2. Arsenic is bad for you.
  3. Scientists are finding health effects at lower exposure levels.
  4. If you’re on a well, test it for arsenic.
  5. If the levels are high, you should consider doing something about it.

This one chart published by the Center for Public Integrity shows you why (the blue bar is arsenic):

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 4)
8:30 am
Thu July 3, 2014

These places in Michigan are still working on getting arsenic out of their drinking water

Sue Cherry, the director of Maple Tree Montessori Academy, said the school installed a reverse osmosis system to take out the arsenic. However, that system didn't meet EPA standards. The kids are told not to drink the water from the sinks.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

There’s no way to tell if arsenic is in your water without testing it. Arsenic has no taste and no smell.

Certain parts of Michigan have higher than average levels of arsenic in groundwater. That’s especially true in the Thumb region and a few other counties in southeast Michigan. And that can be a problem if you’re on a private well.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 3)
8:30 am
Wed July 2, 2014

There's arsenic in Michigan's well water, but not a lot of people are talking about it

Drilling a water well in Michigan.
Bushen Well Drilling. Facebook

Michigan's Silent Poison Part III

Parts of southeast Michigan – especially in the Thumb – have higher than average levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic can cause cancer. It’s been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer, and other serious health effects.

If you’re on city water, there’s a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, it’s up to you to find out whether there’s too much arsenic in your water.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 2)
8:00 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Michigan’s arsenic problem is among the worst in the nation. Here’s why that matters.

An arsenic testing kit can help private well owners know the arsenic levels in their drinking water. Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

If you’re on city water, your drinking water has to comply with a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, the federal and state governments do not limit the amount of arsenic in your well.

It’s up to you to test your well and decide whether to treat it.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rock, and it can get into groundwater.  Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

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Michigan's Silent Poison
9:00 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Here's how to test and treat your drinking water well for arsenic

Sampling done from 1983 through 2003 shows where arsenic levels in groundwater are the highest in Michigan. Arsenic levels are in micrograms per liter.
Credit Michigan DEQ

In some parts of the U.S., arsenic in the groundwater is just a natural part of the geology. Michigan is one of several states where elevated levels of arsenic in ground water can be found.

This map shows the counties where these elevated levels have been found, but experts caution, elevated arsenic levels in well water can be found just about anywhere in Michigan:

There was a big push to educate people about the dangers of arsenic poisoning around a decade ago, but in some places in Michigan, people still don't know much about it.

And in some other cases, people know about it, but choose to ignore it, for one reason or another.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 1)
8:55 am
Mon June 30, 2014

This mom didn't know why her family was sick until she checked their water

Renee Thompson and her family became ill after moving into a house in Ortonville. Later, she discovered that their well water had higher than average levels of arsenic.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

 

It’s been called “the mother of all poisons.” You can't taste arsenic and you can’t smell it, which is why it’s been the poison of choice for centuries.

“During the Middle Ages it was called the succession powder,” says Jerome Nriagu, professor emeritus of public health at the University of Michigan.

“That’s the way people got rid of the kings and queens if they wanted to become the king or queen themselves,” he said.

Arsenic, in very high doses, can kill you.

But arsenic is a naturally occurring element and doctors and scientists like Nriagu are working hard to understand how arsenic affects us today.

A family experiences mysterious health problems

Renee Thompson and her family were sick for three years without having any idea why.

“My children and my husband all became very ill after we moved into the house we had in Ortonville,” she said.

At the time, Thompson had recently given birth to her third child, Danica.

“My son was six, and he started to have severe chest pains, while my older daughter had headaches,” Thompson said. “My husband had GI bleeding, and I had become very fatigued with headaches and skin problems.”

Listen to Thompson explain what her family experienced:

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu June 26, 2014

Recycling that typical household battery is not as easy as you might think

Alkaline batteries before they're recycled at RBS Metals in Brighton, Michigan.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

I was surprised to find out recently that you can’t recycle household batteries in Ann Arbor anymore. I used to collect them in a little steel can, but Recycle Ann Arbor stopped taking them.

From Recycle Ann Arbor’s website:

Alkaline household batteries do not contain hazardous materials and may be disposed of in the trash.

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The Environment Report
2:13 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

Help for honeybee researchers coming from Grand Valley State University

A second grader shares her feelings about bees.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Today's Environment Report from Michigan Radio. Listen to GVSU's Anne Marie Fauvel explain how hive weights can help researchers.

That’s right, bees rule. At least that what my second grader thinks after she studied them at school.

“You wrote bees rule. Why do bees rule?” I asked.

“I think it’s neat for how they can make it into honey and that they can speak to each other by doing a dance," she answered.

She, of course, isn’t the only one who think bees rule. A lot of us think they rule. Especially when you consider that around one out of every three bites of food we eat is the result of a bee.

But as you’ve likely heard, bees are in trouble. Beekeepers have been experiencing losses at alarming rates — and scientists across the country are scrambling to try to stop these losses. Whether from Colony Collapse Disorder, or other bee stressors, the problems bees face are more complicated than it once seemed.

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The Environment Report
1:45 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Developers face obstacles to offshore wind farms in Great Lakes

The Middelgrunden is an offshore wind farm outside Copenhagen, Denmark.
Kim Hansen Flickr

As recently as a couple of months ago, construction of a wind farm in Lake Erie, off the Ohio shoreline near Cleveland, looked promising. But now some are sounding the death knell for any wind development in the Great Lakes. 

The Department of Energy estimates the country has an offshore wind capacity of four million megawatts. That’s four times the generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants.

Michigan was among a handful of states working with federal agencies a few years ago to speed up the development of wind farms off the shores of the Great Lakes. 

Wind energy developer Lorry Wagner says leaders started looking toward the energy sector to create more jobs. He says that’s when they realized the region’s potential for offshore wind energy.

“The real resource is in the lake. And the reason for that is you get about three times the energy due to the higher wind speeds and less turbulence than you do on land," he says.

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The Environment Report
11:22 am
Tue June 17, 2014

Michigan entrepreneurs want the saskatoon to be the next big fruit

Saskatoons look like purple blueberries, but taste like apples.
User: waledro Flickr

An unusual berry should be widely available at farmers markets in northern Michigan this summer. In fact, the region has become the center of saskatoon growing in the United States.

Most people who grow saskatoons around Traverse City were not farmers until a few years ago, but the berry could have a bright future in northern Michigan.

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The Environment Report
1:45 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

Big increase in the number of fatal drownings in the Great Lakes

One way to prevent fatal drownings is to know what drowning looks like. Pay attention to these five signs.
GLSRP.org

Swimmers and boaters in Michigan need to be more careful on the water.

"We're at 23 fatal drownings on the five Great Lakes so far this year. It's about 50% up from last year at this time," says Bob Pratt, the director of education at The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. He says many recent deaths have been boaters who were swimming or they ran into trouble while boating on the lakes. 

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The Environment Report
11:34 am
Tue June 10, 2014

Lawmakers considering early bear hunt to protect beehives

Commercial beekeeper Kirk Jones checks on his honeybees at Sleeping Bear Farms.
Sara Hoover

The Environment Report

Beekeepers have to keep their honeybees healthy against a lot of challenges: deadly mites, pesticides and harsh winters.

Once they make it to the spring though, it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. Bears are emerging from hibernation at their hungriest.

And beeyards are like a dinner bell.

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill (H.B. 5226) that could allow beekeepers and hunters to work together to protect honeybees from bears. 

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