Environment & Science

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.

Open Data is the idea that some data should be freely available to the public. But can we put that data to good use if we can't really connect with it?
flickr user jwyg / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It’s easy to feel sometimes like we’re awash in lots of numbers in the news.

There are all kinds of data about foreclosures, costs of health, poverty, you name it.

But it’s all just numbers. It can be hard to look through the data to see the real people beneath. Numbers don’t tell you about moms struggling, hungry kids, or people who sleep on concrete at night.

Alex B. Hill has been thinking a lot about the separation of big numbers and real people.

Cluster of pawpaw fruit
flickr user Wendell Smith / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There is a fruit native to North America that is plentiful and was for a long time quite popular.

But chances are, you’ve never tasted 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.

A small sample of the thick, bacteria-ridden algae spreading across Lake Erie
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Half a million Toledo residents lost their drinking water in the summer of 2014 thanks to thick carpets of bacteria-laden algae on Lake Erie.

It hammered home a warning that scientists have been trying to sell for years: Lake Erie is in serious trouble.

Andy Stuart, president of the Toledo Rotary Club, wants to make sure no one forgets. The club is hosting a Lake Erie crisis conference this weekend.

Rogerio Fernandes

Coloring books are more popular than ever. Adults are encouraged to use them as stress relievers and an easy outlet for creativity.

Kathryn Curtis, a University of Michigan School of Public Policy graduate, is hoping to use coloring books to raise awareness of the problem of water security in Brazil and the U.S.

After spending a year in Brazil and seeing firsthand how the drought has affected farmers there, she decided to create a "plantable" coloring book that she hopes will get people talking about the negative effects of drought.

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.

The front of a "Dutch Boy White Lead" paint can. Dust from old paint is still one of the major ways kids get exposed to lead.
user Thester11 / Wikimedia Commons

What’s happening in Flint has some people wondering about what’s happening in their homes.

The Flint water crisis is highlighting the problem of lead exposure in kids.

Lead can permanently lower IQ and cause behavior problems. Researchers have even linked children with elevated lead levels with a higher propensity toward crime later in life.

Now, state officials are urging schools around the state to test their water for lead.

But it’s also important to know what’s going on at home.

Flickr user Kenneth Lu / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

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.

gonzales2010 / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Today is the last day for the public to weigh in on plans to expand a toxic waste facility in an east Detroit neighborhood.

US Ecology wants permission to expand its capacity to treat and store hazardous materials to 10 times what it handles now.

That includes byproducts from oil and gas fracking.

Concerns from local officials and residents who live near the facility prompted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to extend the public comment period twice.

Richard Conforti with MDEQ said so far, the state has received around 450 comments.

The Flint River.
Sarah Razak / Flickr

The state plans to urge all schools to test for lead in the drinking water, after elevated lead levels showed up in the water in several schools in Flint.

Flint's situation is unique, in that the city switched to using more corrosive water from the Flint River last year.

Enbridge Line 5 runs from Superior, WI to Sarnia Ontario. One Coast Guard official says the UP section of the pipeline worries him most.

A federal judge has ruled in favor of Enbridge Energy and the federal government in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club over a pipeline running through Michigan state forest land.

According to the Sierra Club, Enbridge ought to have been required to carry out a full environmental impact analysis for the pipeline in 2014 when it took out a new permit. 

Honeycrisp apples are explosively popular.
University of Minnesota

In our little informal apple poll, Michiganders agreed: Honeycrisp apples are the tastiest apple to eat.

Unfortunately, your love for Honeycrisp apples could be the reason why they are so pricey.

Up until 2008, farmers had to pay a royalty on Honeycrisp apple seeds to the University of Minnesota, where they were first developed.

Part of the new line 6B pipeline in central Michigan.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The two oil pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac are not unique.

The National Wildlife Federation says there are 5,110 locations across the United States where oil pipelines run through or under navigable waters.

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. 

A Flint resident holds a jug of tainted Flint water.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

One of the biggest questions of the Flint water crisis centers on corrosion control.

As we heard from Virginia Tech water specialist Marc Edwards, federal rules dictate that communities have measures in place to prevent water from leaching lead out of old pipes.

The very thing that happened when the city of Flint stopped taking treated water from Detroit and began drawing its water from the Flint River.

So were corrosion control measures in place or not?

We spoke with Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith and Steve Carmody to sort this question out.

Jeremy Sternberg/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It was August 1998 when FBI agent Greg Stejskal got a phone call about a meteorite stolen from the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

“Nobody really expected anybody to walk off with a 60-pound meteorite,” remembers Stejskal.

Eventually, the FBI and U of M police tracked down a guy named Steven Collins, who denied knowing how the meteorite was stolen.

In this interview with Stateside, retired agent Stejskal tells the story of the missing meteorite and how it was eventually found.

Sarah Razak / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

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.

Baby squirrels.
Association to Rescue Kritters

If you can't figure out what to do with the hoards of acorns Mother Nature is piling up on your lawn right now, here's an idea. 

Donate them.

The Association to Rescue Kritters (ARK) in St. Helen has taken in 18 orphaned baby squirrels who won't be able to get through the winter on their own.

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus helps those slimy, bright green blooms of toxic cyanobacteria grow.

micropterus_dolomieu / Wikimedia commons

A state lawmaker wants to make sure commercial fish farms will never be allowed to operate in portions of the Great Lakes controlled by Michigan.

State Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, says commercial fish farming could create a huge problem with waste.

“This waste could create algae blooms, all sorts of problems on the shore, as well as out on the lake,” he says.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint hasn’t been using any corrosion-control method since it switched from Detroit’s water system in April 2014. Corrosion-control treatment helps keep lead out of drinking water. Since the switch, more kids are showing up with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

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.”

Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

Superintendent of Flint public schools, Bilal Tawwab, has asked parents to send their kids to school with bottled water. This comes after doctors found a spike in lead levels among children. This is likely due to the city's tap water.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 oil pipeline has lain deep under the water in the choppy Straits of Mackinac for more than 60 years. 

Over the decades, Line 5 has fed billions of barrels of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas into the lower peninsula of Michigan. 

Yet there has never been a drill to test the region’s readiness for a spill from a leak or rupture of the pipe. 

Until now, that is.

Legislator wants to ban fish farming in Great Lakes

Sep 24, 2015
NASA / Wikimedia Commons

A Republican state lawmaker is introducing legislation to ban commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes.

State Senator Rick Jones (R) said fish farms are a source of pollution, invasive species, and disease that harm native fish populations.

They generate concentrated amounts of fish waste that can cause widespread algae blooms and damage recreational areas, according to Jones.  


The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has a plan to curb sulfur dioxide pollution in Wayne County, and it has plenty of critics.

In 2013, an area of Wayne County that includes part of Detroit and some downriver communities failed to meet new federal ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The spotted wing drosophila is a nasty invasive fruit fly that's turning into a nightmare for Michigan berry growers.

Blueberries and cherries are major cash crops in the state.

Kevin Robson is a horticulture specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says the fly showed up in Michigan five years ago.

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at how far oil might travel with a 12-hour release in the Straits of Mackinac.
UM Water Center

The scenario: Someone has spotted oil on Lake Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac. They place a call to an emergency response center.

What happens next?

Today, Enbridge and other emergency response officials will test whether their emergency oil spill response plan is effective.