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Rebecca Williams

Reporter/Producer - The Environment Report

Rebecca has a natural science degree from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources & Environment, where she had close encounters with escaped boars and poison sumac. Before getting into radio, Rebecca snapped photos of Mongolian diatoms and published a few papers in obscure scientific journals.

Now she spends her days reporting on everything from hungry watersnakes to heritage turkeys to people who live in 300 square foot houses.

She’s won several national awards for her work including a first place National Headliner Award at the network level for her stories on the uber-destructive emerald ash borer.

Celeste A. Journey / USGS

A lot of different chemicals end up in our rivers and streams.

Researchers are finding these mixtures of chemicals are more complex than we thought, and it could hurt fish and other creatures.

Courtesy of Michigan Tech

This year’s Winter Study of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale found that there are still just two wolves hanging out on the island.

markbwavy / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some government websites are changing what they say about the environment, and a group of researchers is keeping track. Researchers in the U.S. and Canada are continuing to back up scientific data from federal agencies in the U.S.

They’re also keeping a close eye on how information is changing on federal websites like the EPA, the State Department and the Department of Energy, along with other federal agency sites, and they've been finding changes are happening.

A salmon fishing boat.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Fish consumption advisories usually focus on one chemical at a time – like mercury – and these advisories tell you how much of each kind of fish you should eat, and what to avoid. But they don’t often tell you much about mixtures of different chemicals in the environment that could be in fish.

Enbridge Energy's Line 5 oil and liquid natural gas pipelines run under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In a new report released today, the National Wildlife Federation took a look at data on currents in the Straits of Mackinac. That’s where Enbridge’s twin pipelines run along the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Mike Shriberg is the executive director of the Federation’s Great Lakes office.

“What this report shows is that there are additional stresses on this pipeline beyond what it was designed for," he says.

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Richard Hsu / Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a health advisory for microcystin. That’s the toxin that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014.

It’s released by a kind of cyanobacteria that’s been forming on Lake Erie every year, and it can hurt your liver.

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Early budget indications suggest the Trump administration could slash funding for the Great Lakes.

There are many possible cuts to EPA programs. Great Lakes restoration money could be cut by 97%, and money for beach monitoring could be also at risk.

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

President Trump called for a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure this week in his address to Congress.

The Great Lakes Commission has ideas for where some of the money should go. The Commission is an interstate compact agency that represents Great Lakes states. The agency released recommendations today for rebuilding our water infrastructure.

Inside the Michigan Senate
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The League of Conservation Voters has released its annual National Environmental Scorecard. It shows how members of Congress voted on environmental issues. This year, the group found a deep partisan divide.

Charlotte Jameson is the government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. The group just published its own scorecard for the state Legislature.

USA National Phenology Network, www.usanpn.org

Scientists have known that spring is arriving earlier across the U.S. because of climate change. Now, you can take a look at new maps from the U.S. Geological Survey to see how early spring is arriving where you live.

Jake Weltzin is an ecologist with the USGS, and the executive director of the National Phenology Network.

"The folks down in the southeastern United States, across much of that region, are seeing spring coming as many as three weeks early this year," he says.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is joining nine other attorneys general to oppose a bill in the U.S. Senate.

It would change how ballast water in ships is regulated. Invasive species can hitch a ride in ballast water.

The bill would create a single, national standard and pre-empt states from creating their own standards.

The shipping industry likes that. But the attorneys general are concerned about losing the ability to have stricter state standards.

Microbeads on a penny.
Courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute

The International Joint Commission, a treaty organization that advises the United States and Canada, says the two countries should do more to keep microplastics out of the lakes.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are five millimeters or smaller. Microbeads are used in things like soap and toothpaste. Microfibers are tiny fibers that wash off our synthetic clothing, like fleece.

Those tiny plastics can end up in the Great Lakes and can get into fish.

If you see the old label on the left, the piece of upholstered furniture likely contains flame retardants. If you see the new label on the right, it will tell you for sure whether it contains flame retardants.
Mark Brush and Arlene Blum

Flame retardants are in a lot of products we use: furniture, carpet padding, electronics, car seats and baby products. Some types of flame retardants called PBDEs have been phased out because they were getting into people’s bodies and there were concerns about health effects.

Researchers are now finding that some of the replacement chemicals are also showing up in people.

Posted with permission / EDGI

Shortly after the election, researchers from the U.S. and Canada got together to start backing up scientific data from federal agencies in the U.S.

They’re also keeping a close eye on how the Trump Administration is changing federal websites, and they're already finding some changes.

One of the groups heading up this effort is called the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative. (You can see EDGI's report on changes to some EPA websites here, and its report on the State Department and Department of Energy here.)

Map of wetlands
A. M. Nahlik and M. S. Fennessy/Nature Communications / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

We know a lot about how important wetlands are for filtering water, and controlling floods. A new study documents another big benefit wetlands give us: storing carbon.

Siobhan Fennessy is a biology professor at Kenyon College in Ohio. She says wetlands act like a buffer for climate change.

“Wetlands are really seen now as an ecosystem that can offer us resilience in the face of a changing climate because of their ability to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," she says.

Image used with permission from Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

A new study found fluorinated chemicals in one third of the fast food packages researchers tested. The chemicals keep oil and grease from leaking through.

The researchers found that out of 407 food packages tested, 46% of food contact papers and 20% of paperboard contained fluorinated chemicals.

Scientists have found this class of chemicals doesn't break down in the environment, and some kinds of fluorinated chemicals are linked to health problems.

Grass carp
USGS

There are grass carp in three of the Great Lakes, but it’s not too late to do something about it.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new risk assessment on this type of Asian carp by the United States and Canada.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor is joining a "guerrilla archiving" movement.

Librarians, web developers and other volunteers are working fast to save scientific data from federal agency websites.

It’s called Ann Arbor Data Rescue, and it’s part of a larger project that’s springing up around the U.S. and Canada.

They’re doing this in case the Trump Administration changes or removes data.

A mild weather day
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

2016 was the hottest year on record.

When we talk about climate change, we usually talk about extreme weather events: extreme heat, drought, flooding. But scientists have also studied what’s likely to happen with the best weather days. Days that are not too hot, not too cold, or humid or rainy. Just right.

Honey bees face a number of threats.
cygnus921 / Creative Commons

Researchers have found a chemical that’s widely used on crops such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits can be bad for bees.

They’ve found it makes honey bee larvae more susceptible to deadly viruses.

Gov. Snyder delivers his 2017 State of the State address.
House TV

The environment came up a handful of times in Governor Snyder’s State of the State address.

The governor was often light on details, and he didn't talk about the Flint water crisis until halfway through the speech.

But Snyder did announce some new initiatives. He called for more investment in our aging infrastructure, announced a work group to study environmental justice issues, reminded the Legislature that he wants tighter standards for lead in drinking water.

Dan Mullen / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the first time in the U.S., a bumble bee has been listed as an endangered species. 

It’s called the rusty patched bumble bee. The species is no longer found in Michigan, but small populations still exist elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

Hemlock woolly adelgid
Michigan DNR

State officials want you to check your trees for a tiny insect. It’s called the hemlock woolly adelgid, and it survives by sucking sap from hemlock trees.

This insect was first detected in Michigan in 2006.

Rolf Peterson outside Bangsund Cabin on Isle Royale.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The winter study of the wolves and moose on Isle Royale is heading into its 59th year. The wolf-moose study is the longest running study of any predator and its prey in the world.

Scientists from Michigan Tech spend several weeks on the island in the middle of winter every year. They'll be heading back out soon.

Rachel Kramer / User: Flickr

Bald eagles came off the endangered species list in 2007 because they were doing so well. These days you can see more bald eagles than in any time in the past 50 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency has just finalized a new rule about bald and golden eagles, which revises the permitting system for unintentional impacts on eagles.

Dana and Charles Banks in front of their Flint home, shortly before they sold it..
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A year ago, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency in the city. Now, officials say the water is improving, but it’s still not safe to drink without a filter.

The water crisis has forced some people to make tough choices.

Dana Banks and her husband Charles were both born and raised in Flint, and they still have a lot of family here. Their church is here. Their house, right near downtown, is the first home they bought together.

Kate Langwig and her team have found evidence that some bats may be developing resistance to the deadly disease.
Jennifer Redel

There’s some hopeful news about a disease that’s killing bats.

White-nose syndrome is killing millions of bats in 29 states including Michigan, and five Canadian provinces. It’s a disease caused by a fungus.

But there might be a glimmer of hope. Researchers have found some bats in the U.S. appear to have developed resistance to the disease.

Asbestos sign
Michael Coghlan / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Environmental Protection Agency just put out a list of ten high priority chemicals.

These are the first chemicals the agency will review for risks to human health and the environment under a new law that Congress passed this summer.

The DeYoung Power Plant in Holland.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This year is likely to be the hottest on record. Scientists with the World Meteorological Organization announced that recently, as world leaders met in Morocco to talk about limiting the impacts of climate change.

President-elect Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, and he’s said he’ll withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Andy Hoffman is a professor with the Ross School of Business and education director for the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan.

He says we don’t really know what the president-elect’s climate policy will look like.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

President-elect Donald Trump has called global warming "a very expensive hoax," despite agreement among the vast majority of climate scientists that climate change is happening now and is mainly human-caused. Trump has also put climate change skeptic Myron Ebell in charge of his EPA transition team.

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