drinking water

The site of the former Velsicol Chemical Corporation in St. Louis is going to take a long time to clean up.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of St. Louis, Michigan would much rather be talked about as the geographic center of the Lower Peninsula.

Instead, there's a lot of focus on the legacy of pollution here.

The story of Velsicol Chemical in St. Louis, Michigan is quite complicated. 

This week, we’ve told you about efforts to clean up the old Velsicol Chemical plant. There’s a threat to the local drinking water supply after the first attempt to clean up the plant failed. Birds still die from DDT, decades after the plant stopped producing it.

But we haven't told you who's paying to fix it.


Velsicol Chemical operated on the banks of the Pine River in St. Louis, Michigan from 1938 to 1978. It was the site of the infamous PBB mixup. The entire plant was buried in place and now it's leaking.
Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force

There are a lot of former industrial sites in Michigan that need to be cleaned up, but the Velsicol Superfund sites in St. Louis, Michigan are unusual in their size and in the amount of nasty chemicals lurking in the ground where people live, work and play.

The company tried to contain the pollution before, but its solution didn’t work. Ask some of the community members about that original plan and they say they could have told you it wasn’t going to work.

user rob zand / Flickr

Monday night "The Daily Show with John Stewart" brought attention to Detroit's controversial water shutoffs during a satirical news bit.

"Daily Show" correspondent Jessica Williams interviewed Nolan Finley of the Detroit News; Detroit Water Brigade Creative Director Atpeace Makita, and attorney Alice Jennings.

According to the Detroit News, Finley was interviewed about three weeks ago. 

Finley described how he approached the interview:

"I tried to present a complex issue as fairly as possible," he said. "They taped me for 90 minutes, looking for the 'gotcha' moment, and I'm pretty sure I probably provided it for them."

In the video, Finely's opinion strongly supports the idea that people should pay their bills and shouldn't be entitled to free water, an opinion the "Daily Show" unsurprisingly mocked.

Some tweeted their support for Finley:

In another tweet, Finley explains that during the initial taping he tried to avoid any further "gotcha" moments.

 

Makita's segment was taped Oct. 23 at the Detroit Water Brigade Headquarters and a viewing party was held last night at Anchor Bar.  You can view the full "Daily Show" interview below. (Go here if you don't see the video below.)  

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,The Daily Show on Facebook,Daily Show Video Archive

 - Tifini Kamara, Michigan Radio Newsroom

NOAA

Several Great Lakes mayors want stronger and faster action to keep Great Lakes drinking water safe.

A drinking water summit was held this week in Chicago, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

Nicola Crawhall, deputy director of the initiative, said the meeting was triggered by the August shutdown of Toledo Ohio's drinking water system. The water was contaminated by microcystin toxins.

"We felt that was a watershed moment, if you like," said Crawhall.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

The images of green water in Lake Erie and foul, toxic tap water in Toledo certainly got many of us at least thinking about what's coming out of our taps.

What is Michigan doing to protect our drinking water, the water we get from the Great Lakes system, against cyanobacteria, the toxin that led to a ban on tap water usage in Toledo last month?

Dan Wyant is the director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says there needs to be a comprehensive plan to deal with the problems. 

"We all need to work toward improving water qualities throughout not only the Great Lakes, but also rivers and streams," says Wyant.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's "The Environment Report" has just wrapped up a week-long series called Michigan's Silent Poison.

Reporter Rebecca Williams worked in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity and the public radio show Reveal to explore the problem of arsenic in well water.

Williams said Michigan has a serious problem with arsenic in private wells that can lead to major health issues.

Public water supplies have federal limits to regulate arsenic levels in water, however, private wells are not regulated.

The Thumb region in Michigan has the largest problem with high arsenic levels in private wells. Levels are as high as 20 times more than the federal accepted limit for arsenic in public water.

During the series Michigan’s Silent Poison, Williams made efforts to talk with someone from the Michigan Department of Community Health, but no one was made available. After the series aired, the Department said they would make someone available to speak.

Jennifer Gray is a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. She answered some of the questions on Stateside today.

*Listen to full interview above. 

Water faucet.
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

This week, the Environment Report is taking a look at Michigan’s silent poison — arsenic.

Federal standards allow public drinking water supplies to have arsenic levels of up to 10 parts per billion (ppb), but these standards do not apply to private well owners (that's left up to the well owner to determine).

And in counties throughout Michigan, some wells have much higher levels of arsenic than this "maximum contaminant level" set by the EPA.

Higher levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to skin cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer, among others.

But are lower levels of arsenic a threat to human health?

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

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.

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.

Amy Temple / The Center for Public Integrity

Arsenic is nearly synonymous with poison. But most people don't realize that they consume small amounts of it in the food they eat and the water they drink.

Recent research suggests even small levels of arsenic may be harmful. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been prepared to say since 2008 that arsenic is 17 times more toxic as a carcinogen than the agency now reports.

Women are especially vulnerable. EPA scientists have concluded that if 100,000 women consumed the legal limit of arsenic each day, 730 of them eventually would get lung or bladder cancer.

The EPA, however, hasn’t been able to make its findings official, an action that could trigger stricter drinking water standards. The roadblock: a single paragraph inserted into a committee report by a member of Congress, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found.

Bushen Well Drilling. / Facebook

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.

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.

Arsenic is a deadly poison, and there are people in Michigan getting arsenic at levels high above federal standards every time they drink the water coming from their taps.

Michigan Radio's "The Environment Report" is presenting a five-part series this week called "Michigan's Silent Poison," in partnership with The Center for Public Integrity and the public radio show "Reveal."

The Environment Report’s Rebecca Williams spoke on Stateside today, along with David Heath from the Center for Public Integrity.

“No organ system goes untouched by arsenic,” Williams said.

Extremely high doses of arsenic can kill you. Smaller doses have been linked to lung, bladder, skin, prostate, and liver cancers. You can also get arsenic poisoning with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, gastrointestinal pains, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Arsenic can be found in rice, apple juice, beer and wine, and drinking water. The levels are exceptionally high in private wells at people's homes, mostly in the thumb region of Michigan.

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

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:

Michigan Radio

What’s in the water you drink?

user william_warby / Flickr

Before I talk about the small bits of chemicals often found in drinking water, I want to direct some attention to the national water contamination story going on now because I think it reveals something.

The water is bad in West Virginia

The nation has its eyes on a nine-county area in West Virginia that’s under a state of emergency. A coal-processing chemical leaked into a river and poisoned the drinking water there. Cleanup is ongoing. As they attempt to flush the chemical out of their drinking water systems, officials are trying to determine what level of the chemical is safe.

Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virgina Gazette reports that local and federal officials are saying that "1 part per million" of  crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (the coal processing chemical) is safe for people to drink.

But Ward is having a tough time finding out what they based that number on:

When you grab a bottle of water at the grocery store, do you ever wonder where that water came from.

And do you really know the quality of that water? We found out if it's really better than what comes out of your tap.

And, as the use of meth makes headlines across the state, we talked to one woman about her recovery and what she's doing for other addicts.

And, we traveled to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park near Mackinac City, one of only 10 designated sky parks in the entire world.

Also, musician Matt Jones talked about his newest work and overcoming a challenging year.

First on the show, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed (D-Nev.) says a bipartisan deal has been reached, a deal that would avoid a U.S. default and it would end the partial government shutdown. 

Speaking on the senate floor, Reed thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for working out the agreement, an agreement to reopen the government through January 15th and increase the nation’s borrowing authority through February 7th. 

Now though the deal’s in place the House and Senate still need to vote to approve the legislation.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow joined us today to give us her perspective on the issue.

Great blue heron covered in oil from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.
Michigan's oil response Flickr page / State of Michigan

The Michigan Department of Community Health released its public health assessment of the waters and fish affected by the 2010 Enbridge oil spill.

You can read their report here.

They conclude the spill is "not harmful to health":

MDCH has concluded that no long-term harm to people’s health is expected from contact with chemicals in the surface water during recreational activities, such as wading, swimming, or canoeing. However, contact with oil sheen and globules in the river may cause temporary effects, such as skin irritation.

Fish from the Kalamazoo River and Morrow Lake were tested for oil-related chemicals, as well as chemicals that were previously found in fish there. Fish from areas impacted by the oil spill, including Ceresco Impoundment and Morrow Lake, had similar levels of oil-related chemicals as fish caught in Marshall Pond (upstream of the spill). All oil-related chemical levels were very low. Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels were similar to levels measured in fish caught before the oil spill.

The MDCH has released previous reports on the oil spill's effects on drinking water wells, and on the effects of submerged oil in the sediments of the Kalamazoo River.

Darwin Bell / Creative Commons

The E coli bacteria that was discovered earlier this week in Rockford’s municipal water system has cleared out. People living in the Grand Rapids suburb will need to do some things around their house to make sure their families are safe.

People were told to boil their water and sponge bathe their kids earlier this week to avoid the nasty illness E coli exposure can cause. Six schools closed over safety concerns. Some restaurants closed voluntarily.

Lisa LaPlante is with the Kent County Health Department.

Around 2,500 students in the Rockford Public Schools district are home today because of E. coli bacteria in the city’s water system. Complications over the holiday weekend led to elevated levels of the bacteria that could be a risk to human health. A boil water advisory is in effect until further notice.

Rockford schools superintendent Mike Shibler says six schools on the Rockford water system will have to be closed tomorrow too for the safety of the students who attend.

user william_warby / Flickr

Drink up! It’s national Drinking Water Week.

This week, the nation celebrates good old H2O, which just this year knocked out pop — or soda, if you prefer — as the number one beverage in the United States.

But as health-conscious Americans rejoice in the rise of water-drinking across the country, we wanted to know — where did your last drink of water come from? And do you really know the quality of that water?

Mark Kurlyandchik dives into the subject of water in the May issue of "Hour Magazine," with his piece “Ebb and Flow: Demystifying Drinking Water.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Update 5:26 p.m.

Flint needed the state's permission to join the water pipeline project because the city is run by an emergency manager. Supporters say the new pipeline will save Flint money.

Bill Johnson, spokesman for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, said the state previously told Detroit water officials they would have more time to reach a new agreement with Flint. He says the Detroit water system stands to lose big if Flint starts getting its water from Lake Huron.

"Detroit will lose 6 to 7 percent of its total revenue base, amounting to something like $22 million. That cost would have to be absorbed by the remaining 3 million Detroit Water and Sewerage Department customers."

Detroit has until Monday afternoon to make one final offer to the city of Flint to keep its water business. Flint’s emergency manager has said he wants to see Detroit’s offer.

12:39 p.m.

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - The state of Michigan has approved Flint's plans to get its water by participating in a pipeline project that would tap Lake Huron.

The Flint Journal reports the approval is subject to review of a final offer from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department by Monday. State Treasurer Andy Dillon told Flint's state-appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz of the decision.

Under the proposal, Flint would get 16 million gallons of water per day from Lake Huron, pipe it to Flint for treatment and then sell it to city customers. Another 2 million gallons per day would come from the Flint River and would be treated in Flint.

The Karegnondi Water Authority project could serve Flint and Lapeer as well as residents elsewhere in Genesee, Lapeer and Sanilac counties.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has recruited eight craft breweries in Michigan for a new campaign to promote clean water by supporting strengthening federal regulations like the Clean Water Act.

“When you talk about beer you have to talk about water,” said Jason Spaulding, co-owner of Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids. “It’s not as sexy as talking about malt or hops or things like that.”

Spaulding says about 90-percent of beer is made up of water. He says if you want a great locally brewed lager, IPA or pilsner; you need clean water.

“Doesn’t matter how many hops or how much malt you put in it, if your water is not good your beer is not going to be good,” Spaulding said.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A battle is brewing over where the city of Flint will get its tap water.

Last month, the Flint city council voted to join a project to get fresh water from Lake Huron.   Supporters say the project will save the city millions of dollars by replacing its current water source: the city of Detroit.

But the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is asking the state Treasury Department to veto the plan.

Bill Johnson is with the DWSD. He says state officials need to step in to prevent a “water war.”

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Running the country's largest wastewater treatment plant is not easy.

You've got to treat more than 700 million gallons of 'who-knows-what' every day.

In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department wasn't complying with federal Clean Water Act laws. That's when federal oversight over the department began.

That oversight ends today, according to federal judge Sean Cox.

From the blog DWSD Update:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A judge will consider a request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Flint’s skyrocketing water and sewer rates this week.

Since 2011, Flint’s water and sewer rates have more than doubled. City officials say the rate increases are needed to cover rising costs in the system.

But Attorney Val Washington says that’s not how the city is using the money.

“Instead of being used what it’s for….water and sewer….related expenses,” says Washington,  “It's being used to pay the general obligations of the city.”

Flickr user Carol VanHook

Mount Clemens in southeastern Michigan has been honored for the best drinking water.

The Macomb Daily says Mount Clemens recently received the nod from the Michigan branch of the American Water Works Association. The competition was conducted by a state engineer, and three judges graded the city's water and others on clarity, taste and odor.

Mount Clemens water comes from Lake St. Clair. The city has its own water department and doesn't rely on Detroit, a major supplier of water to the suburbs.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Rising water costs have Flint officials looking at the Flint River as a source of drinking water. 

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