Environment & Science

Dave Reckhow is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s water is still not safe to drink without a filter.

A lot of people have been asking whether the water is safe for bathing. Federal and state agencies say it is.

Steve Chrypinski/Michigan Radio

Issues & Ale visited Bill’s Beer Garden in Ann Arbor last night to discuss the Gelman Sciences 1,4 dioxane plume of toxic pollution making its way through the city’s groundwater.

Host Lester Graham led a panel of experts through the discussion. Together they answered residents’ questions and discussed ways to reduce risks associated with the contamination.

MLive reporter Ryan Stanton, who covers this issue, was one of the panelists. Stanton said the Department of Environmental Quality has been working to revise Michigan’s standard for dioxane in recent years.

Courtesy of Tony Reidsma

Lake Michigan residents and business owners are expressing concern over rising water levels. Just three years ago, however, the concern was about record low water levels in the Great Lakes.

Al Steinman, president of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, told Stateside that there’s no need to worry about such a significant fluctuation in lake levels.

“People need to be patient,” Steinman said. “These water levels go up and down. It’s part of the natural cycle.”

Double-crested cormorant

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has halted programs to reduce the number of cormorants in the Great Lakes region. The federal government and tribes in Michigan kill the birds to protect yellow perch, walleye and other fish. But the judge said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overstepped its bounds when it authorized killing cormorants in more than 20 states.

Peter Payette visited the Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan this week to talk to people who live there.

DTE Energy

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has submitted a final plan to curb sulfur dioxide pollution in Wayne County to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA deemed part of the county, including southwest Detroit and some downriver communities, in violation of new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for sulfur dioxide in 2013.

Decaying sea walls on Lake Michigan in Chicago.
Flickr user Mike Boehmer/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were at record lows three years ago. At the same time, water levels for the other Great Lakes were well below average.

This year is a bit different. Lake Michigan could be at a near-record high. The lake has risen four feet since that all-time low in January 2013.

Kathleen Torrenson is the president of Torreson Marine in Muskegon. She joined us today on Stateside to discuss how the changing water levels have affected her business and others located along the shoreline.

Torreson said these new high water levels are good for the boating business in the Great Lakes.

“It allows our customers and the people using the water a lot more flexibility in where they’re going and what they’re using,” she said.

But it’s not all good news.

“On the other side of the coin, high water tends to be really, really tough on fixed objects, like sea walls and fixed docks and things like that, things that were built when water levels were at other depths,” Torrenson said. “And as the water comes up and up, they become more prone to damage and erosion, kind of like what they’ve been seeing along the beaches.”

Torrenson said another effect of the sea level rise is that there’s “a lot less beach” compared to a couple years ago. Another flip side, however, is businesses like hers have had to do far less dredging to keep the lake deep enough for boats coming in near the shore.

PM Environmental

The U- Environmental Protection Agency is awarding Oakland County $600,000 to assess and clean up polluted sites. The idea is to prepare those sites for redevelopment.

"If you can show some economic development going into it, where you're actually investing the property, creating jobs, then it's eligible for funding," said Mike Kulka, founder and CEO of PM Environmental which helped apply for the grant.

The grants are awarded to communities deemed underserved and economically disadvantaged, including neighborhoods where environmental cleanup and new jobs are most needed.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Water experts from across the country are dismissing warnings from an environmental group of high levels of contaminants in Flint’s drinking water.    

The experts say new data actually show Flint’s water improving since the switch back to Detroit water last fall. The water is still not safe to drink or cook with unfiltered.  

At a news conference today in Flint, researchers from Virginia Tech University, Wayne State University and the University of Massachusetts outlined the findings of their recent tests on the city’s drinking water.

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There’s a coalition of federal and state agencies working to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It’s called the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. It just came out with its carp plan for this year.

photo of a monarch butterfly
user Jim, the Photographer / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The federal government has a competitive program for state wildlife grants.

Michigan and Wisconsin are getting $500,000 to help protect several species of bees and butterflies that are in trouble.

Jim Hodgson is with the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They’re partnering together to restore grassland, prairie, and savanna habitats that will benefit the rusty patched bumblebee, the yellow patched bumblebee, monarch butterflies, the frosted elfin, mottled dusty wing butterfly, and the endangered Karner blue butterfly,” he says.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new Michigan State University study suggests, if you spent time this past weekend with a beer in your hand, it may be because of something you saw on social media.

MSU researchers say when participants in a study of social media’s influence were exposed to ads touting beer, as opposed to those selling bottled water, they were more inclined to consider drinking alcohol.

They studied the behavior of 121 test subjects. They were divided into two groups. Group one was exposed to beer ads on Facebook. Group two saw ads for bottled water.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

According to a new report, Google Trends can not only tell you about the latest celebrity news, but also if there’s a chicken pox outbreak.

Kevin Bakker has been pouring over a decade’s worth of Google Trends data.   He’s a doctoral student in the UM Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

He wanted to see what it told him about chicken pox.  Or more precisely, what parents were asking about the disease.  

Bakker noticed that those Google searches declined sharply, after government-mandated vaccination programs started.

user braun / Flickr

Detroit’s Marathon refinery will have to cut emissions, under new permits issued this week by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Marathon needs to meet new federal requirements for low-sulfur gasoline.

Because it needed to remove that sulfur, Marathon initially asked to increase its sulfur dioxide emissions, in a heavily-industrial area already considered the state’s most polluted ZIP code.

But after a fierce public backlash, Marathon and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found ways for the company to actually reduce those emissions.

a drinking fountain
Ian Sane / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Drinking fountains in two buildings on Wayne State University's campus have tested positive for lead, according to university officials. In a letter to the campus community, the university said it had tested water in 11 campus buildings, and found lead above the EPA action levels in two buildings – the College of Education Building and the Meyer L. Prentis Cancer Center Building.

The water inlets to the buildings were free of lead. The affected fountains have been shut off, and the University says it will test all other drinking water sources on campus as soon as possible. 

Asian Carp
Kate Gardiner / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

For nearly two decades, The Environment Report and its predecessor The Great Lakes Radio Consortium have been reporting about invasive species on Michigan Radio. More and more kinds of pests are being introduced into the lakes, often by cargo ships bringing in critters from foreign ports. And it's a lot more than just Asian Carp, which has received plenty of headlines in recent years. 

Life stages of ticks.

It's tick season once again, and according to Michigan Radio's The Environment Report, Michiganders should be diligent when they're outdoors this summer. 

According to Rebecca Williams' recent story, the tick that we should be concerned about is the blacklegged tick. However, if you're starting to look for them now, good luck. They are currently in the nymph stage and are about the size of a poppy seed.

Auchter's Art: Tough to be a Michigander

May 27, 2016
John Auchter / www.auchtoon.com


How much do I like beer? Well, I can tell you this: My wife and I recently traded a large and well-maintained trampoline for a single 12 ounce bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those who know me would likely say that was out of character. (Not the trading things for alcohol — that actually is in my wheelhouse.) No, I'm talking about the deep appreciation for something like Founders KBS — a high-end, critically praised consumable. I'm really more of a eat-because-I'm-hungry, water-from-the-faucet, breakfast-cereal-for-dinner kind of guy.

The red lines show where Enbridge's Line 5 crosses Lake Michigan.
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

People who want Enbridge Energy's Line 5 shut down plan to make it an issue at next week's policy conference on Mackinac Island.

The oil pipeline runs under the Straits of Mackinac, near the island.

Enbridge Energy is the company responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S history, which happened when the company's Line 6B ruptured near Marshall, Michigan in 2010. 

The massive oil spill dismayed a lot of people, including Republican State Sen. Rick Jones. He says Michigan can't risk having a spill in the Great Lakes.

Life stages of ticks.

It’s that magical time of year, when you need to start checking yourself for ticks.

The blacklegged tick is the kind of tick we have in Michigan that can transmit Lyme disease, and it’s been expanding its range in our state.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO – Ohio's plan to take a big bite out of what's feeding the toxic cyanobacteria in western Lake Erie leans heavily on programs put in place over the last few years.

The strategy obtained by The Associated Press calls for additional water monitoring and more oversight of existing programs, but no new money toward targeting the blooms threatening drinking water.

The plan being rolled out Wednesday is the state's blueprint for reaching a 40% reduction in the phosphorus runoff that fuels the cyanobacteria in the lake's western end.

Flickr user LadyDragonflyCC - >;</Flickr

A group of communities in Detroit is working together to address climate change. The Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, a combination of people from private and public industries, has developed a Detroit Climate Action plan, which aims to make a cleaner, healthier Detroit while creating jobs and lowering costs.

Kimberly Hill Knott, project director for the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, joined us today on Stateside. 

She said without action, and as the climate becomes more volatile, Detroit could see more events like the flood that hit the city in 2014. 

And action on climate change, Knott said, could prevent more than natural disasters.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

U.S. and Canadian government agencies took part in a mock oil spill drill along the St. Clair River just south of Port Huron today.

With temperatures in the low 80s and a light breeze, it was a lovely day to respond to a fake disaster.

But while a few first responders spent a sunny day on boats in the river, most of the more than 200 people taking part in the exercise spent their time indoors dealing with a scenario for a fictional disaster that included the need to corral thousands of barrels of oil leaking from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.  

West Park, Ann Arbor
matth / public domaine

State environmental officials say 35 private wells on or near Rose Drive in Ann Arbor had no detectable level of 1,4 dioxane after testing water samples.

It's a little bit of good news in the ongoing saga of Ann Arbor's dioxane-contaminated groundwater. 

A plume of water contaminated with the dangerous chemical is slowly moving under the city towards the Huron River.

We Followed A Snowy Owl From Maryland To Ontario

May 24, 2016

At the end of 2013, snowy owls started showing up far south of their usual winter range. The big white birds were reported in South Carolina, Georgia, even Florida.

Dave Brinker, an ecologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, had never seen anything like it.

Flint river
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Studies suggest even low levels of lead exposure can hurt a fetus’ development in the womb.

And for months now, the state health department has been looking into whether the Flint water crisis caused problems with pregnancies.  

Meanwhile, researchers at Hurley Medical Center are investigating whether the lead in the water increased the number of miscarriages.

But it turns out that trying to track miscarriages is really tough.

Dioxane concerns prompt collection of groundwater samples

May 21, 2016
Ann Arbor's West Park
adaenn / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

State officials want to collect water samples in the West Park area of Ann Arbor due to concerns that groundwater contaminated by a toxic chemical may be seeping to the surface.

The Ann Arbor News reports that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality plans to start the groundwater collection next week.

The chemical is dioxane, an industrial solvent. Federal agencies say long-term exposure could cause health problems, including cancer.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, by executive order, has re-established the state's commission focusing on reducing lead poisoning among children.

The previous commission was disbanded in 2006 because the state legislature did not renew the statute that created it.

The commission will have a statewide focus.

Snyder says the new commission will focus on the elimination, rather than prevention, of lead poisoning. 

He says the commission will present its report by November, 2016.

NEFCO, a Massachusetts-based company, has partnered with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to turn waste water residue into fertilizer pellets like the ones shown above.
Flickr/City of Geneva / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Waste water sludge is making its way to Michigan farms in the form of fertilizer pellets. The practice has not gone unnoticed in rural Lenawee County, where last fall and this spring, residents have complained about the foul odor emanating from nearby fields. 

Here's how James Bryja of Onsted describes the smell: 

A magazine cover criticizing Canada's stance on climate change.
Kyle Pearce / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

New research finds people often stay quiet when it comes to talking about climate change.

It’s not because they’re afraid of being disliked.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people avoid bringing up the subject for two main reasons:

1) People underestimate how much other people care about the subject.

2) People feel like they don’t know enough about the science of climate change to hold a discussion.

Punkin Shananaquet, a member of the Gun Lake tribe, holds a Gete Okosman squash at the Gteganes Farm.
Jijak Foundation

There's an ancient variety of squash that was largely forgotten about. But it’s been rediscovered.

Tribes around the Great Lakes region are sharing the seeds of this squash with each other and with small farmers.

Sarah Hofman-Graham works at Eighth Day Farm in Holland, Michigan. She invited me to a dinner party featuring a soup made from an ancient squash. The soup tasted sweet and mild.