Environment & Science

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Researchers from Virginia Tech are back in Flint to test people’s tap water, but some residents are not willing to have their water tested again.

Last summer, tests by Virginia Tech were the first to show elevated lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.

Virginia Tech Ph.D student says testing the same homes is the best way to know if things have changed, but he says they are running into some resistance from homeowners.

A worker holds a lead service line removed from a home in Flint.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In Flint, there is no shortage of testing going on.

Right now, the state, the EPA, and outside researchers are testing all kinds of water samples collected throughout the city.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Flint on-scene coordinator Mark Durno says all parties will get together in a few weeks to go over the data they've collected.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (right) stands next to the lead drinking water line that was pulled from a home in Flint.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It was a symbolic day in Flint on Friday as the city removed its first lead water service line under Mayor Karen Weaver’s “FAST Start” program.

The Mayor wants to remove all the lead water lines in the city under the program. She’s seeking $55 million to fund the program. Right now, they’ve started the program with $2 million from the state. That money was reimbursed to the city after it spent it last fall as part of the payment to reconnect Flint’s water supply to Detroit’s system. Weaver says the state could pay for the rest using its "rainy day" fund.

flickr user Bart / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

"I’m past freaked out."

An Ann Arbor father said that to Ryan Stanton of the Ann Arbor News/MLive Media Group after finding out that his wife and three kids have been drinking and using water contaminated by 1,4 dioxane.

A dioxane plume that is slowly working its way toward the Huron River in Ann Arbor has already reached some private wells on the west side of the city. 

mdprovost/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There's been an ever-increasing drumbeat of alarm over the more than 62-year-old Enbridge Line 5 running under the Straits of Mackinac carrying some half a million barrels of oil or liquid natural gas.

Well, if pipelines built in 1953 have you worried, how about pipelines built in 1918?

The owner of the 98-year old pipelines has asked the State Department to update usage permits on the pipes that run under the St. Clair River between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario. 

USEPA

Federal experts are helping the state investigate rashes in Flint. The federal team is with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and they're doing what's called an ACE investigation (Assessment of Chemical Exposure).

The ACE team arrived in the city last week. It’s looking into possible connections between skin problems and the water in Flint.

It’s something lots of people have been wondering about.

New app to help Flint residents navigate water crisis

Mar 1, 2016
Courtesy photo

A new app for mobile devices aims to help Flint residents get the information they need to deal with the city's water crisis.

It's called "Empower Flint," and it gives Flint residents a checklist of the most important steps to take to protect themselves, their families and even their pets from the lead in Flint's water and pipes. 

MDEQ

The St. Clair River is on a list of toxic hot spots in Michigan. They’re called Areas of Concern.

The river is on this list because of a long history of industrial pollution. But people have been working to clean it up.

In order to take the river off the list, there are a number of problems that have to be fixed.

One of these is beach closings. Those can happen when untreated sewage gets into the river during storms. But officials say things are getting much better on that front.

Mark Durno / EPA

There’s all kinds of testing going on in Flint to try to figure out what’s happening in the drinking water system. The state and the Environmental Protection Agency are each doing different kinds of tests.

The EPA is about to launch a new kind of test. It’s called a pipe rig.

MAP PRODUCED BY: Environmental Health Division Department of Public Health Washtenaw County, Michigan

A plume of groundwater contaminated with the highly carcinogenic chemical 1,4 dioxane continues to spread beyond Ann Arbor's city limits, threatening private wells in Ann Arbor Township.

Township Supervisor Mike Moran says he is so frustrated at the lack of  legal action by the state attorney general that it's time for the "nuclear option" -- asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare the region a Superfund Cleanup site.

Moran says in March, he will ask his township board for permission to make the request to the EPA.

Flint's records of where its lead service lines are located were on hundreds of index cards until February 2016.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The U.S. EPA is stepping up enforcement of the federal rule designed to prevent people from being exposed to too much lead in their drinking water. Today, the agency is sending letters to 49 states responsible for implementing the federal rule. The EPA already has the primary responsibility for overseeing the Lead and Copper Rule in Wyoming and Washington D.C.

The Argo Cascades is a series of little waterfalls and drop pools built in an old mill race in Ann Arbor. The polluted site is across the Huron River from this site.
City of Ann Arbor

An official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will address water contamination in Ann Arbor at a special meeting of the City Council Monday night at 7 p.m.

A plume of 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical, is slowly moving through the city's groundwater.

Ann Arbor City Council member Sabra Briere hopes the state will finally announce how much of the chemical is considered safe.

She says the state has postponed making that rule for eight years. 

The Flint River
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It’s been two months since the former head of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality resigned. Dan Wyant resigned after a task force placed much of the blame for the Flint water crisis on the MDEQ.

Now, a coalition of environmentalists is urging the governor to appoint someone who’ll make human health the department’s top priority.

One of many abandoned structures in Detroit
flickr user Stephen Harlan / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Michigan is all too familiar with the sight of abandoned buildings. Detroit is one of the most significant examples, where hundreds of millions of dollars are being spend on demolition.

Rex LaMore wonders whether we can’t save taxpayers the cost of abandonment by planning for the end of a building’s life from the very beginning. LaMore is director of Michigan State University’s Center for Community and Economic Development, and he’s looking at ways to address Michigan’s glut of abandoned buildings.

The hidden costs of pollution

Feb 25, 2016
markbwavy / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

We often hear about the economic costs of environmental regulation on the energy industry.

But there’s a flip side to that equation — the price society pays for pollution.  One scientist has added up those costs. And she found they’re going down.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has joined a 20-state effort to halt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of its Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which is aimed at limiting mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The application for a stay alleges that the rule has already caused utilities to spend $9.6 billion, for only $4 billion to $6 billion in health benefits.

Residents sue Marathon refinery over pollution

Feb 23, 2016
user braun / Flickr

A lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court, claiming air contaminants, noise and odor from Marathon's refinery in southwest Detroit is causing a continuous nuisance that's harming people who live nearby.

The lawsuit is seeking class action status, damages of more than $5 million  for area residents, and a court order to stop Marathon from releasing contaminants into the air and to cut noise and odor.

Bert Cregg, MSU

You might’ve noticed there’s something strange going on with the spruce trees in your neighborhood.

It’s called spruce decline and it’s mostly affecting Colorado blue spruce.

Spruce decline is pretty much what it sounds like – the lower branches on the tree start turning brown and dying.

Bruce Power / Ontario Power Generation

Plans for a nuclear waste dump site near Lake Huron in Ontario are on hold, at least for now.

The proposed Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) is the work of Canadian power company, Ontario Power Generation.

Ewashtenaw.org: http://bit.ly/1XCy6qr / Washtenaw County

For the last 30 years, a plume of a colorless, odorless toxic chemical has been steadily creeping toward one of the main water supplies in the city of Ann Arbor.

A kayak on the Huron River
Deb Nystrom / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell wants the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to finish the job it started several years ago.

In an open letter to MDEQ director Keith Creagh, Dingell urged the state to finalize stricter cleanup standards for the chemical 1,4-dioxane.

U.S. Forest Service

The Pine River is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Lower Michigan and one of the most popular. But its popularity created a problem the U.S. Forest Service wants to fix.

The project would mean the end of a sandy bank, about 160 feet high, that attracts crowds of paddlers.

The issue pits people’s enjoyment of the river against the river’s health and even public safety.

city of Detroit skyline
James Marvin Phelps / Flicker

Metro Detroit once had a high-tech water warning system designed to detect chemical spills in real time. Now, it sits unused.

Built in 2006, the system was made up of a series of water monitoring devices at 14 plants from Port Huron to Monroe, mostly along Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River. The sensors sent data to computers utilized by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Macomb County and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

DTE Energy

Michigan will halt efforts to meet new power plant emissions standards while they’re battled over in court.

Michigan is one of 29 states suing the federal government over the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The U.S. Supreme Court preemptively put a hold on that plan last week before even hearing arguments.

State officials say it now makes sense for Michigan to follow that lead, and stop moving forward until the courts offer some “clarity.”

Doug Kerr / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

If you want to help reduce greenhouse gases - without a major change in life style, the best single action is to drive a more fuel efficient car.

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute,  if every American were to drive a car that gets 31 mpg, instead of the current average of 21.4 mpg, total U.S. carbon emissions would drop by 5 percent.  Driving a vehicle that gets 56 mpg would mean a 10 percent drop.

Ann Arbor is almost halfway to its deer cull goal

Feb 16, 2016
Tee Poole / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The city of Ann Arbor says hired sharpshooters have killed 47 deer in designated parks and nature areas, since the city's deer cull began January 2.

Sharpshooters have until March 1 to reach the city's goal of 100 deer.

Until then, 14 city parks and nature areas remain under restricted hours while sharpshooters carry out the cull.

Lindsey Scullen/Michigan Radio

Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, says she doesn’t want to waste any time getting rid of the city’s old lead service lines.

It’s those lines – which bring water from the main to Flint houses – that have caused so much trouble in the city. Flint did not treat the water from the Flint River properly. That meant it ate away at those pipes and contaminated the water in many homes with lead.

A sentinel team, L to R: Dave Maynard, DEQ, Brian Petroff, a plumber with UA Local 370, and Flint residents Douglas Banks and Eric Harvey.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Teams of plumbers, employees with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Flint residents have started visiting 400 homes in Flint this week. The state of Michigan calls these homes “sentinel sites.”

The state says 156 of these homes are known to have lead service lines. Other homes are places where kids have tested high for lead in their blood.

Bryce Feighner is with the MDEQ.

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio

A group of state House Democrats hopes the crisis in Flint will help bring attention to other issues they say threaten clean water in Michigan.

They announced bills on Thursday that would increase regulations on fracking.

Democrats say there’s an opportunity to have a serious conversation about fracking and other water quality issues.

“Now that there’s a little more attention, this gives us an opportunity to go to our colleagues and say, hey look, here’s another threat, here’s another problem,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

The people in charge of the drinking water in Flint didn't do their jobs correctly.

A state-appointed emergency manager forced the city to switch where they got their drinking water from to try to save money. The city switched water sources from Lake Huron water from Detroit, to water from the Flint River. And when they made the switch, they failed to understand that there was something Detroit was adding to the water to protect them.

Phosphates.

These phosphates create a protective layer inside drinking water pipes.

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