Environment & Science

Environment & Science
5:01 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

State approves oil well permit for Scio Township

An oil well.
Credit morguefile

The state has approved a permit for a controversial exploratory oil well in Scio Township close to Ann Arbor.

The approval came despite fierce opposition from residents and Scio Township's board of trustees.

Adam Wygant is with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

He says because of the public comments, the state took two months to study the application - much longer than the 24 days it normally takes to approve a permit for an exploratory oil well.

Wygant says oil wells tend to be less disruptive than people fear, and often, they get used to them.

Read more
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):

Read more
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.

Read more
Environment & Science
5:31 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Appeals court says no drilling in Pigeon River forest

Pigeon River State Forest
Credit michigan.gov

The Michigan Court of Appeals says state regulators were correct to deny a drilling permit to developers who want to put oil wells on private land surrounded by a state forest.

The developers said the state should either grant the permit, or compensate them for their lost investment. They want to put 11 wells on private property surrounded by the Pigeon River Country State Forest in northern lower Michigan. The state Department of Environmental Quality said the wells were either in designated no-drill zones, or were too close to water.

“The takeaway from this decision is that you can’t drill an oil well just any old place in the state of Michigan,” said DEQ spokesman Brad Wurful. “There are some areas that are off limits.”

And the decision says since that was clear up front, the developers don’t get a payback from the state.

“What the court said was, everybody knew this beforehand going into this and it was clear,” Wurful said. “Nobody got surprised here. They simply wanted to do something that was not allowed and the court upheld that. We’re pretty pleased with the decision, obviously.”

The developers can file a new permit request with plans to use different technology, like directional drilling. They can also take their case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Environment & Science
10:33 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Politics, profits delay action on arsenic in drinking water

Wendy Brennan, center, outside her home with husband Peter, daughter Caitlyn and granddaughter Madelyn Begin.
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
Stateside
5:14 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

The polar vortex is over, but the "mosquito vortex" is here

A female mosquito.
Credit Wikipedia

We wrestled with the polar vortex all winter long. Now it looks like we could be wrestling with a mosquito vortex all summer long.

Ned Walker is a professor of entomology, microbiology, and molecular genetics at Michigan State University.

Walker anticipates a bad mosquito season this summer. Right now in lower Michigan, for a variety of ecological factors, we have three varieties of mosquitoes flying around at the same time.

The first species is the spring mosquito, a consequence of the polar vortex. They live in woodland pools that were formed by melted snow and spring rains.

“Our mosquitos are cold-hardy; they are used to the northern conditions,” Walker says.

The second species is the flood plain mosquito, which hatches after heavy rainfall in the spring.

The third is the summer flood water mosquito. Their larvae live in places that stay wet from a half-inch of rain or more after seven to 10 days.

Walker says there are about 60 different types of mosquitos in Michigan. 

*Listen to full interview above.

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.

Read more
Stateside
5:16 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Interview: High levels of arsenic could be in your well water

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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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:

Read more
Environment & Science
6:00 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Detroit Zoological Society leaders to share expertise with China's 3 biggest zoos

Credit Center for Zoo Animal Welfare

Top officials from the Detroit Zoological Society are headed to Beijing, where they’ll lead a workshop for senior staff from China’s three largest zoos.

CEO Ron Kagan is touring the zoos in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to scope out current animal care practices there.

Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter says Kagan will brief the team on his findings in Beijing, so they have a good sense of where the Chinese zoos stand going into the four-day workshop.

Read more
Environment & Science
8:15 am
Fri June 27, 2014

Former Palisades workers claim retaliation for raising concerns

The Palisades nuclear power plant near South Haven.

Former workers at the Palisades nuclear plant are accusing management of lying to regulators about attempts to fix a work environment where managers put a chill on critical feedback from employees. 

Thursday night’s meeting to review Palisades' performance last year started out pretty typically.

Regulators noted a survey that found security officers fear retaliation if they raise certain concerns.

Company officials got a chance to respond. Otto Gustafson, Director of Regulatory and Performance Improvement at Palisades, said management is taking the concerns very seriously and outlined a plan to correct the problem. 

But then Chris Malich stepped to the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting and called Gustafson and other officials out.

“I’ve seen it over and over,” Malich told regulators, “They’ve said things are going to change, things are going to change, and they stay the same.”

Read more
Environment & Science
6:24 am
Fri June 27, 2014

New task force to review pipeline safety in Michigan

Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new government task force has been created to review the safety of Michigan's pipelines.

DEQ Director Dan Wyant and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will co-chair.

Formal oversight for interstate gas and oil pipelines comes from the federal government, but states are not required to do their own management.

Carl Weimer is executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. He said Michigan needs state oversight of its increasing number of pipelines.

Read more
Environment & Science
8:38 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Gardeners beware: Study shows harmful pesticide in garden store plants

2 out of 4 plants from a suburban Detroit Home Depot tested positive for neonicotinoids.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Michigan environmental group says gardeners should be careful when buying plants – they may be inadvertently harming bees.

The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center was part of a study looking at the pesticide content in plants bought from major home and garden stores in 18 cities across North America.

Of four plants purchased at a metro Detroit Home Depot, two tested positive for neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides known to be toxic to bees.

Read more
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.

Read more
Environment & Science
6:31 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

Great Lakes region not doing well on beach water quality

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Great Lakes region didn't do so well last year in beach water quality, according to the annual beach report by Natural Resources Defense Council. 

More than 3,000 samples were taken from coastal and Great Lake beaches across the country. Thirteen percent of the samples had bacterial levels that were too high for safe swimming. That means the region has one of the highest failure rates in the country. 

Steve Fleischli is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He explained why this might be the case. 

Read more
Environment & Science
6:24 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

Small businesses welcome carbon emission regulations

Credit Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

Support is growing within the small business community for tighter limits on carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.

That's according to research by the American Sustainable Business Council. One in five of the surveyed businesses said they had already been hurt by extreme weather events.

Many business owners say they've searched for their own ways to reduce energy costs to become more efficient.

David Levine is CEO of the council. He said small businesses want to see these changes implemented across the board.

Read more
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.

Read more
Energy
5:00 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Two meetings this week to discuss Palisades nuclear plant’s performance last year

Credit Entergy Corporation

People will get two opportunities this week to hear how the Palisades nuclear plant is doing. Palisades was recently listed as one of the worst-performing plants in the country.

Regulators have raised the plant's official safety rating, but they say the safety culture among security staff still needs to improve.

Read more

Pages