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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.

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.

Wilson Hui / Flickr

Nestle owns a water bottling plant in Stanwood, Michigan, north of Grand Rapids. It bottles spring water for its Ice Mountain and Pure Life brands.

The company wants to increase the amount of water it pulls out of the ground at one of its wells. The well is about 35 miles north of Stanwood in Evart, Michigan. To do that, it needs a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the public is supposed to weigh in on whether the company should get that permit.

But a lot of people didn’t hear about it – until it was almost too late.

David Lobbig / Courtesy of Jenny Chipault

In the last few weeks, roughly 600 birds have died along the shore of Lake Michigan. They washed up on the beaches within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with more dead birds reported on beaches in the Upper Peninsula.

Joe Connolly / Cornell University

There’s a new creature in the Great Lakes and it has “cyclops” in its name.

It’s called Thermocyclops crassus. It’s a kind of zooplankton.

Elizabeth Hinchey Molloy is with the EPA’s Great Lakes Program Office. She says it's extremely small.

“It’s less than one millimeter, so smaller than the dot a pencil makes,” she says.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

It’s the busy time of year for commercial fishing on the Great Lakes. But the price of whitefish is about half what it was three years ago, because of problems with international trade.

Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo / Flickr

Grand Rapids and Flint are both in the spotlight in a new report on the sustainability of cities.

Researchers with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine looked at nine cities, including New York and Vancouver. All of them have sustainability plans in place.

Linda Katehi chairs the committee that wrote the report.

A radar image of bird migration.
BirdCast

2016 has been on a record-breaking warm streak, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

So what does this unseasonably warm fall mean for birds that need to start packing up and heading south?

Andrew Farnsworth is a research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and he runs BirdCast – it’s a tool the lab created to forecast what’s happening with bird migration each week. 

$340 billion dollars: a new study estimates that’s how much it costs Americans every year for daily low-level exposure to chemicals that mess with our hormonal systems. The figure includes health care costs and lost earnings. 

Dr. Leonardo Trasande is an associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU School of Medicine.

A cyanobacteria; bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of people are focused on trying to fix Lake Erie’s toxic bloom problem. The green cyanobacteria blooms are fueled by phosphorus that gets into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

A new report says we need to focus a lot more on cleaning up the streams in Michigan and other states that feed the lake.

Stuart Ludsin is an author of the report and an associate professor at Ohio State University. He says too much sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen can also hurt the fish in streams.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake.
USFWS

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is now listed as a threatened species.

Scott Hicks is a field supervisor in Michigan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the massasauga’s new status is due to the loss of its wetland habitats.

Terry Kreeger / Wyoming Game and Fish Department/CWD Alliance

Archery season for deer started over the weekend, and that means state officials are gearing up to test more deer for chronic wasting disease

The disease is contagious, and it’s always fatal for the animals. It creates tiny holes in their brains, and deer get very skinny and start acting strange.

Since it was first found in wild deer in Michigan last year, seven deer have tested positive, with an 8th case suspected.

Sea lamprey
USFWS Midwest / Flickr


We spend a lot of money to control sea lampreys. The U.S. and Canada spend $21 million dollars a year to keep them in check.

 

The invasive fish drills holes into big fish like trout and salmon, and drinks their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill 40 pounds of fish.

 

Managers are always looking for new ways to control the blood suckers and keep tabs on where they are in the Great Lakes system.

 

Now, scientists are testing the idea of using environmental DNA – or eDNA. It’s a tool that’s been used a lot to see if Asian carp are in a river or lake; it detects genetic material from the fish.

 

Double-crested cormorant
USFWS

There’s now more evidence that manmade chemicals can spread far and wide.

 

Researchers have found a chemical called PFPIA in cormorants, northern pike and bottlenose dolphins. The chemical has been used in pesticides, and it belongs to a group of chemicals called perfluorinated acids. They’re used to make cookware non-stick and make carpets stain resistant.

 

Amila DeSilva is a research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Honey bees in a GVSU hive.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

You can thank a honey bee for pollinating about one of every three bites of food we eat. But as you’ve likely heard, bees are in trouble.

They’re getting hit hard by pesticides and diseases and pests, and they’re losing habitat.

Two Grand Valley State University professors are using technology to track the health of hives in a new way.

The ESPniagara, aka "lab in a can."
NOAA GLERL

Scientists launched a kind of underwater robotic tool in Lake Erie this week to test the water for toxins.

Timothy Davis is a researcher with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“We affectionately call it a lab in a can,” he says.

He says this tool takes water samples to test the levels of a toxin in the green blooms of cyanobacteria that've been showing up in the lake each year.

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