Environment & Science

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.

Chestnut Growers, Inc.

During this holiday season, we hear Nat King Cole crooning about those chestnuts again. Did you know that Michigan leads the nation in chestnut production?

Yet most of us have never eaten a chestnut. That is something Dennis Fulbright wants to change. He's a plant pathologist and professor with Michigan State University.

Mark Brush

 

About 10 years ago, a weird chemical started showing up in the drinking water in St. Louis, Michigan.

It was a byproduct of DDT. The insecticide is now banned in the U.S., but DDT was manufactured in St. Louis for 20 years.

Now, the city is working to get a new source of drinking water. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

UPDATE: This story was updated on 12/17/14 at 3:36 pm 

State officials are reporting what they say is a small natural gas leak in a pipeline in the Upper Peninsula that’s owned by Enbridge Energy.

Brad Wurfel of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the leak near Manistique was discovered, reported, and fixed by Enbridge. He says there was a small amount of liquid natural gas released, but it quickly evaporated.

“The good news is there’s no lingering environmental damage to discuss with this incident,” he said.

the nyerges family
Courtesy of Jane-Ann Nyerges

It's been over 40 years since the Michigan Chemical Corporation/Velsicol made a catastrophic mistake that affected millions of Michigan residents.

The company from St. Louis, Michigan, shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to the Farm Bureau Service instead of a nutritional supplement. That chemical was PBB or polybrominated biphenyl.

PBB was mixed into livestock feed, but it took a year to discover the accident. Millions of consumers ate contaminated milk, meat, and eggs during this time.

Jane-Ann Nyerges was one of the farming families whose lives were changed after the PBB contamination.

An ailing robin fledging in Teri Kniffen's yard in St. Louis, Michigan in June of 2013.  Some of the highest levels of DDT ever recorded in bird livers and brains were found in this neighborhood.
Teri Kniffen

All this week we're bringing you stories about the chemical company responsible for the PBB tragedy in Michigan. Michigan Chemical accidentally contaminated the state’s food supply in the 1970s, but the legacy of that company is still very much with us today.

Michigan Chemical – which later became Velsicol Chemical – made more than just PBB, and it left these toxic chemicals behind in St. Louis, Michigan.

One woman insists something is wrong with the birds

Photo courtesy of Emory University

More than 40 years ago, Michigan’s food supply was contaminated. People’s health is being affected, even now.

All this week, we’re looking at the ripple effects left behind by the company that made that tragic mistake.

In 1973, the Michigan Chemical Corporation shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to a livestock feed plant instead of a nutritional supplement. The chemical is called polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB. It took about a year to discover the accident. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

KALAMAZOO   (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will be several more years before cleanup work begins on the next phase of an 80-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.

  According to agency officials, it will take at least until 2017 to select and implement a plan for cleaning 22 miles of the Kalamazoo River Superfund site.

LUNDIN MINING

UPDATED: 12/15/14 at 12:00 pm

MARQUETTE (AP) - State regulators will answer questions from the public about a proposed surface water discharge permit for the Eagle Mine and Humboldt Mill in the Upper Peninsula.

  The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is conducting a public hearing on the permit January 13th, 2015. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Westwood High School Auditorium in Ishpeming.

NOAA

The Great Lakes go up and down. It's just a fact of life. 

Water levels in Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron continue to be above their monthly averages for the first time in 16 years.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

A bill that would forbid the state Department of Natural Resources from considering biodiversity along with other uses of state lands, such as public recreation, or logging rights, is moving swiftly in the state Legislature.

More than 130 researchers who oppose it hope Gov. Rick Snyder will veto the bill.

Julie Grant / Allegheny Front

The coal industry and conservative politicians say new carbon rules for coal-burning power plants will kill the industry, and they warn that without coal, extreme weather events, like last year's polar vortex, could leave people in the cold and dark. But how well does this argument hold up?

Detroit from space. MacLean got a little closer than this.
NASA

It's called getting perspective - climbing up on the mountain and having a look around.

That's exactly what Alex MacLean does. As a pilot and a trained architect, MacLean goes up in the air to find out what's happening on the ground.

He's flown all around the United States, and recently his flight over Detroit was featured in the New York Times Sunday Review.

Orion spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral!
Nasa.gov / Nasa.gov

The “Block M” has officially made its way into space.  

This morning at 7:05 a.m. EST, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle carried by the Delta IV heavy rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with a University of Michigan flag on board.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to help cities deal with toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie.

"Particularly when they see something where you have an entire region could not utilize their own drinking water supply," says Miller, referring to a two-day shutdown of Toledo's water supply in August. 

Solar flares
Flickr user Jason Major / Flickr

Robert Alexander works to give the sun a voice. As a sonification specialist at the University of Michigan, Alexander turns data from the sun into music. 

Brian Roth / Michigan State University

State officials recently updated the list of invasive species banned in Michigan. They added seven species to the list. That means you can’t have them in your possession or move them around.

Wood burning stove.
Rich Misner / Flickr

Michigan may soon pick a fight with the Environmental Protection Agency over wood burning stoves.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 12 million wood and pellet stoves. The EPA estimates wood stoves contribute about 13% of the nation’s soot pollution. 

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The images of sludgy-looking green water coming out of taps this summer in Ohio and parts of Southeast Michigan are hard to forget. 

More than 400,000 people saw their water contaminated by toxins from cyanobacteria and algal blooms on Lake Erie. 

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

Update 7:25 pm

100% of Detroit's public lighting grid was up and running as of Tuesday evening, city officials said, while noting Public Lighting Department crews were still dealing with a handful of "localized issues."

All PLD customers lost power this morning, after a "major cable failure" at the Mistursky power station. When crews tried to reconnect part of the system through another circuit, a breaker failed, triggering a system-wide shutdown around 10:30 am.

The PLD grid is being phased out over four years, and is currently serviced by DTE Energy. DTE is in the process of building a replacement grid, but is still using the old infrastructure to serve most PLD customers in the meantime. Those customers include some of the city's largest institutions--such as the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, a number of courts, many Detroit Public Schools, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

At an afternoon press conference, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the outage is "another reminder of how much work we have to do to rebuild this city."

“A bankruptcy order doesn’t solve the decades of neglect in our infrastructure, and that’s what we saw," said Duggan.

“Every month that goes by, we will be more and more on a more modern system, and the likelihood of this happening will go down. But it’s part of rebuilding the city.”

DTE Electric President Jerry Norcia said the company is in the process of inspecting the current system and making needed upgrades, but had been focusing on known weak points. 

"This was a station that had not failed before," said Norcia, who said the exact cause of the cable failure isn't known yet.

The city's police and fire stations also lost power, but the 911 dispatch system and other communications were up and running throughout. That was fortunate, as some trauma patients had to be re-routed from Detroit's Receiving Hospital, and firefighters rescued people stranded on the top floors of a few downtown buildings.

Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said emergency personnel kept things operating with only a few minor adjustments. “They received instructions to move their vehicles outside the quarters, so we were able to respond to every call for help around this city," he said.

The Detroit Public Schools and Wayne State University canceled afternoon classes due to the outage.

Update 12:19 p.m.

Here's a statement from the Detroit Public Lighting Department:

The city’s public lighting grid suffered a major cable failure that has caused the entire grid to lose power at approximately 10:30 this morning.   The outage is affecting all customers on the PLD grid.  We have isolated the issue and are working to restore power as soon as possible.

The city’s Public Lighting Department is working closely with DTE during this process.  Mayor Mike Duggan and representatives of DTE will provide further details a 2PM press briefing at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.

11:26 a.m.

A power outage affecting parts of Detroit closed several government buildings, including some courthouses, and left intersections without working traffic lights.

The outage happened about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Federal spending on scientific research hasn’t kept up with inflation in recent years, and it’s made it harder for researchers to fund their work. Some of them are turning to another source: crowdfunding. But this funding source raises new questions for scientists.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It’s a cold day in East Lansing, but many are braving the cold to catch a glimpse of the next major step in a $730 million nuclear physics project. 

Over the next day or so, truckload after truckload of concrete is being poured into a deep pit on the Michigan State University’s campus.

At the bottom of the 65-foot-deep trench, the concrete will form an 8-foot slab that will support a key portion of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.    

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Staff at the Palisades Nuclear Plant will highlight the work done to update the plant, during a public open house in South Haven tonight.

Spokeswoman Lindsay Rose says they’ll talk about a big project to replace almost all the control rod drives that have been problematic over the past decade.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Monday is the deadline to give federal regulators feedback on a plan to cut carbon emissions in the United States by 30% by 2030. The Environmental Protection Agency says more than 1.6 million comments have been filed so far.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio  - Ohio's lawmakers are moving toward taking on the algae that has plagued Lake Erie in recent years.

  New legislation recently approved in the state House would ban farmers in much of northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on frozen or saturated fields.

  Farmers also would need to hold off if heavy rains are in the forecast. Another provision would set new rules on the dumping of dredged sediment in the lake.

Morgue File

The Michigan Public Service Commission says there was a nearly four-fold return on utilities' energy efficiency programs in 2013.

State natural gas and electricity providers spent $253 million on programs to weatherize homes and replace inefficient water heaters, HVAC systems, and boilers with efficient models.

The MPSC report says that will save customers $948 million over the life cycle of the replacements and upgrades.

Electric utilities are required to spend 1% of retail sales on energy efficiency programs, and natural gas providers, .75%. 

creative commons

Does a stretch of unseasonable warmth do much to influence people’s views on climate change?

One recent study suggests the answer is: No.

This study looked at two big data points. One was weather data for the winter of 2012, an unusually warm one across most of the country—and the 4th-warmest on record for the contiguous US as a whole.

SEMCOG

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to lower the allowed level of ozone from 75 to 65 to 70 parts per billion.

Ozone is a dangerous chemical that forms when sunlight and heat interact with emissions from cars, factories, and power plants.

"Even going to 70 (ppb) will be a monumental challenge for us in the region," says Joan Weidner of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). 

SEMCOG is the group which monitors ozone levels and coordinates actions to reduce ozone. 

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

Federal regulators are proposing new rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and it looks like one community in west Michigan has a decent head start.

In case you missed it over the summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing cutting carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

Power plants are the biggest producers of carbon emissions in the U.S.

Here in Michigan, coal powers half of all homes and businesses. So utilities are probably going to have to stop burning so much coal in order to meet the requirements, assuming they are approved.

The City of Holland owns a coal plant. The James De Young plant is 75 years old.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Less than a month after voters weighed in on wolf hunting in Michigan, a new study looks at the attitudes driving the wolf debate.

The study, co-authored by Meredith Gore of Michigan State University, tries to better understand why controversy persists in wolf management in Michigan.

Gore's research found that a common factor appears to be assumptions people make about other groups. She says interviews revealed a tension between local knowledge about wolves, and what the science says. She says that can undermine trust in the decision-making that goes on in Lansing.

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