Environment & Science

Dredging on the River Raisin. A mechanical dredge removing material on July 11, 2012.

State and federal officials are celebrating the completion of a twenty-year river cleanup effort in southeast Michigan.

The River Raisin was once one of the most polluted rivers in Michigan. It will soon be clean enough for both commercial navigation and recreational use.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the cleanup effort is in its final stage, which is set to be finished by the end of October.

Cameron Davis is senior advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video / Enbridge Energy


Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 goes right under Lake Michigan. It splits into two pipelines at the Straits, and it was recently announced that the supports that hold the pipeline in place are not in compliance with a 1953 easement agreement with the state.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Crews hired by Enbridge are back at work along the Kalamazoo River again this month.

In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline broke near Marshall, spewing about a million gallons of crude oil that fouled the Kalamazoo River. The company spent more than a billion dollars cleaning up the spill.

The clean-up is done. But Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy says the restoration of the habitat along the river continues.

“We’re just doing some work along the river,putting in logs, roots, woody structures, things like that along the river banks,” says Duffy.

user Alchemist-hp / wikimedia commons

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has proposed approving a permit for a company that plans to develop a gold, zinc and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The agency announced the decision Friday about the mining permit for Aquila Resources for the Back Forty Project in Menominee County. The project also includes a proposed processing facility in Lake Township.

A public hearing is planned for October 6.

The MDEQ says it determined the application meets the requirements for approval under Michigan's mining law.

city of Detroit skyline
James Marvin Phelps / Flicker

Our cities are especially vulnerable to climate change. More than 80% of people in the U.S. live in cities, so things like flooding and heat waves can affect a lot of people at once.

But city planners don’t always have a good handle on the risks their cities face.

Wikimedia user Gyre / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The state of Michigan has hit a roadblock in its efforts to cut down on air pollution in Wayne County.

U.S. Steel is suing the state over a rule that requires the company to submit a plan for meeting sulfur dioxide standards at its Great Lakes Works plant in Ecorse.

Michigan has been trying get the Pittsburgh-based company and several others in the Detroit-area to scale back emissions since 2010, when a federal review found that levels were above standards.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State officials in Ohio want to list parts of the Lake Erie shoreline and drinking water intakes in the lake as impaired. They want to do this because of the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria that have been growing on the lake every year. The blooms are fueled by excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus, that get into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

An impaired listing under the Clean Water Act sets pollution limits and outlines what has to happen to clean up that pollution.

Ecologist Ryan Utz and graduate student Catherine Giles check on a recent arrival to their “moth board” at Chatham University. Utz says they could see as many as 1,500 different species on campus over the next several years.
Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front


What do you know about moths, besides that they’re attracted to your porch lights? It turns out researchers still have a lot to learn about the many species of moths and the role they play in ecosystems.

Ryan Utz is an assistant professor of water resources at Chatham University. But right now, he only has eyes for moths.


“It feels like just a wall of gems because you never know what you’re going to find," he says.


Bill Schroer told us that we waste about 30% of our food in America.
United States Department of Agriculture

The Next Idea

There's a halfway decent chance you scraped food into the trash can today. Or maybe you pitched an apple core out the car window on your way to work.

If so, then you are contributing to America's food waste problem, and it's a big one.

Some $218 billion big.

Battle Creek wants to be America's test laboratory and lead the way to zero food waste.

Inside one of the more successful recycling programs in the state - Emmet County's Material Recovery Facility.
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Recycling programs in Michigan have run into some problems.

Some, like the University of Michigan's program, cut back on what they take. And businesses are paying some of the highest prices they've seen in recent years to have their leftover material recycled.

The folks at Ventura Manufacturing wrote to us to say they're having a hard time finding a good recycling option for their facility in Zeeland.

Mary Finn told us the study asked pimps in Atlanta and Chicago how technology has changed their business.
pixabay user Unsplash / Public Domain

It's known as the world's oldest profession, but make no mistake: Some 80% of all sales of sex happen online.

That figure comes from a first-of-its-kind study done by researchers from Michigan State University and Loyola University Chicago. They interviewed pimps in Atlanta and Chicago to find out how the digital world has affected the way they do business.

On July 27, Vayu's fully autonomous drone transported clinical lab samples from a remote village in Madagascar to a laboratory for testing.
Courtesy of Vayu

Fighting disease in developing countries is an uphill battle. 

One of the biggest challenges: the lack of roads. 

How do you get clinical samples – blood, stool, urine – from a remote village to a laboratory where the samples can be tested for disease?

A Michigan start-up called Vayu has taken a promising step toward addressing that crucial problem by using a drone on a life-saving medical mission in Madagascar.

Tougher pipeline safety rules could be a tough sell

Aug 23, 2016
Two men walk the scene of a natural gas transmission line explosion in western Pennsylvania, April 29, 2016. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape and burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius.
Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

There's a building boom for pipelines all across the country right now, and that’s created anxiety about new pipelines close to where people live and work. While the federal government is trying to ratchet up safety rules, there are limits on what these new rules can do.

Kentwood, MI

Methane, a combustible gas, has been discovered underground, outside the boundaries of a Kent County landfill.

The now-closed landfill is near Kentwood's City Hall. 

Dar Baas, Kent County Director of Public Works, says methane usually vents up, into the air, but in this situation, some of it is moving horizonally, under the surface.

He says there will be increased monitoring in the area.

"We did some testing at the city office," says Baas, "and everything's coming back there non-detect, which is really good news. But we want to make sure we're thorough."

University of Michigan public policy assistant professor Catherine Hausman says we need to be concerned about what happens to the environment when methane leaks from natural gas.
Steven Depolo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The natural gas industry tells us that using natural gas is environmentally friendly. The industry says natural gas has fewer impurities than coal, and tells us its combustion yields mostly carbon dioxide and water vapor, so there’s less pollution.

But the main ingredient of natural gas is methane. And methane is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

That’s why University of Michigan public policy assistant professor Catherine Hausman said we need to be concerned about what happens to the environment when methane leaks.

She also believes the utilities have little incentive to plug natural gas leaks. She recently wrote about the issue in an article at TheConversation.com and she joined Stateside to talk more about it. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Work begins this week on replacing damaged lead service lines in Flint.

There’s also a little science going on as well.

Three contractors hired by the city to replace up to 250 service lines are contacting Flint homeowners to get their permission to do the work.  

Wayne State University researchers will also be contacting the same Flint homeowners to ask if they can test the water before and after the contractors do their work.  


The drought this summer may not have been good for your lawn.

But it was good for reducing the blooms of green slime known as cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.

"The low bloom we're seeing right now is just because Mother Nature threw us a dry year," says Chris Winslow, Interim Director of the Ohio Sea Grant. "Definitely the problem's not solved."

The problem is phosphorus, a component of fertilizer used on farmland throughout the water basins of Lake Erie. In a normal year, rains flush the phosphorus from farmland into the lake, and cyanobacteria loves phosphorus.

Fleece fibers are released into the environment after washing, but scientists don't know what the effects might be.
user kellyhogaboom / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A team of scientists from the U.S. and Canada are setting sail on Saturday. They’re heading out on a research trip to sample plastic pollution in all five of the Great Lakes.

It's part of a project called EXXpedition Great Lakes: seven research boats led by female scientists who are studying microplastic pollution. Microplastic pollution is made up of plastic particles that are five millimeters in diameter, or smaller.

Melissa Cooper Sargent / Ecology Center

Many gardeners know that bees are in trouble, and they want to help.  Sales of so-called "bee-friendly" flowering plants are on the rise. 

There's just one problem, says Melissa Cooper Sargent of the Ecology Center, and it's a big one. 

Sargent says it's common practice for nurseries around the country to treat the seeds of the plants, or the plants themselves, with pesticides called neonicotinoids, that are highly toxic to bees.

The Kirtland's warbler, an endangered bird in Michigan.

Endangered species are waiting in long lines for the federal government to make a decision.

That’s the conclusion of a study in the journal Biological Conservation on wait times for listing a species under the Endangered Species Act.

Jane Kramer photographing the American lotus.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Plants usually don’t get as much love as cute animals. Sometimes it’s hard to get people fired up about an endangered plant.

But Jane Kramer’s trying to do that anyway.

She’s a fine art photographer. She takes photos of the shadows of rare or threatened plants, and then prints them on paper she makes out of invasive plants like garlic mustard and purple loosestrife.

Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park is home to prehistoric petroglyphs, a form of rock art made by carving, picking or otherwise removing part of a rock's surface.

The least-visited park in the state is the site of some of its very oldest historic artifacts. 

The Department of Natural Resources, the Office of Historic Preservation, and members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe want to encourage more visitors to come check out Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park. 

Researchers found that cardinals might be helping to shield people from West Nile virus in some regions of the country.

Robins are considered "super-spreaders" of West Nile virus. They’re especially good at passing the virus to mosquitoes, and mosquitoes, of course, can then pass it to us.

It turns out a different bird species – cardinals – might be shielding people from getting the virus in some parts of the country.

Flickr user mLu.fotos / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Time to plan your Perseid party!

The annual meteor show we enjoy each August is expected to be extra special this year.

Filling a sample bottle.
Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech released its latest round of water tests from Flint homes today.

Here are the take-home messages:

Some good news: The team, led by former Flint resident LeeAnne Walters and the Flint citizen science group, sampled lead levels in water in 162 homes in July 2016. The 90th percentile level for lead was 13.9 ppb. This is below the EPA action level of 15ppb.

But there’s an important caveat here. Kelsey Pieper, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Tech, said their sampling pool is a random sample of homes and does not specifically target the highest risk homes for lead. So, while their results show the homes they tested are below the action level, it’s not an official result that would qualify under the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule.

Whiskey Point, at the west end of the harbor at Beaver Island.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Fifteen coastal projects in Michigan have landed more than $927,000 of federal money.

Rachel Cromwell is with the Office of the Great Lakes Coastal Management Program. The state agency decides which projects will be funded.

“The overall objective is to help restore and protect and enhance coastal resources. So we’re looking at different areas like public access, restoration, habitat, things like that, to help bring back those coastal resources or preserve them," she says.

Marc Edwards/Flint Water Study

Remember all that smelly, brownish-orange water that was coming out of people’s taps in Flint?

That was Flint’s water system – the actual pipes – corroding and breaking down, at a rate 15 times faster than they normally would have, says Virginia Tech engineering professor Marc Edwards. 

Hydraulic fracturing rig
flickr user Eusko Jaurlaritza / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In the last decade the term "fracking" has become part of the national lexicon.

Now, it's the focus of a new anthology that pulls together the work of almost 50 writers. It's called Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America.

Allyse Ferrara and Doug Stange pose with an alligator gar.
Courtesy of Allyse Ferrara

It has scales so tough Native Americans once used them as arrowheads.

It can grow longer than a horse, and it loves to munch on Asian carp.

It's the alligator gar!

This ancient fish is found in the south, but they're being restocked in rivers and lakes as far north as Illinois in hopes they might control Asian carp and, in turn, protect the Great Lakes. 

American views on the existence of evidence of global warming: 2008-2016.

The first six months of this year were the warmest on record. This week, we heard about a deadly anthrax outbreak in Russia that's thought to be the result of permafrost thawing.

A new survey finds that fewer Americans doubt that climate change is happening, but it continues to be a highly polarizing issue.