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.

Pages

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Hot, dry summer favors mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus

You can listen to the Environment Report broadcast for Thursday August 9th. An expanded version of the West Nile story appears below.

Maybe you’ve noticed you haven’t been swatting a lot of mosquitoes this summer. 

“It’s been a strangely quiet year for nuisance mosquitoes in particular.”

Michael Kaufman is a mosquito expert and an associate professor at Michigan State University. 

“Most people think all mosquitoes are a nuisance and I guess I’d have to agree with that. But the ones most people complain about come out in large numbers after rain events or spring snow melts and things like that.”

Think of nuisance mosquitoes as the kind that attack you in swarms.

Kaufman says it’s been so dry that we haven’t had the usual bursts of mosquitoes that you get after a big rain. 

But he says ironically, our hot, dry summer has been ideal for the species of mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.  The species Culex pipiens is the one experts are most concerned about... and those guys like it when it’s hot.

“The Culex breed in areas that don’t necessarily need that much water. A really good source of them for their larval development is what we call catch basins or parts of storm sewer drainage systems.”

Kaufman says they also like standing water in bird baths and kiddie pools.

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Environment & Science
11:42 am
Tue August 7, 2012

Hunting for Asian carp in Lake Erie

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium (perhaps a face only its mother could love).
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to the Environment Report interview with MDNR's Todd Kalish.

Crews with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with the Ohio DNR, are searching Lake Erie for Asian carp this week.

They’re stepping up their sampling efforts because of lab results that showed six water samples from Lake Erie had positive environmental DNA hits for Asian carp. Those water samples were from August 2011.

The teams are now out on the lake to see if they can find any more evidence of bighead or silver carp in the lake.

Todd Kalish is the Lake Erie Basin Coordinator with the Michigan DNR.  He says a positive eDNA sample could mean there are live Asian carp in Lake Erie... but there are other possibilities.

"A positive DNA sample basically means that some part of a carp was left behind within 24 hours of a sample being taken. And so it could’ve been a scale or mucus or excrement. Basically what it tells us, and what we assume, that environmental DNA means there was a silver or bighead carp in that area within 24-48 hours of the sampling."

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Offbeat
9:32 am
Tue August 7, 2012

"Bee Sting" sentenced after pleading guilty

Bee Sting talking to Lansing 6 News.
YouTube

A Michigan man who once belonged to a costumed band of self-professed real-life superheroes has been sentenced to time served in jail after pleading guilty in a deal with prosecutors, the Associated Press reports.  More from the AP:

Adam Besso was nicknamed "Bee Sting" and pleaded June 22 to a misdemeanor charge of attempted assault with a weapon. The agreement with prosecutors calls for the 36-year-old Sterling Heights man to be released after sentencing. Besso apologized at his court appearance Monday before formally receiving the sentence of 102 days already served and two years' probation. Authorities say Besso's shotgun fired in April as he struggled with a man at a trailer park in the Flint suburb of Burton. Police say he was wearing a bulletproof vest, black leather jacket with a bee logo, shin guards and knee pads.

"Bee Sting" was once part of a larger group known on the Internet as the "Michigan Protectors."

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News roundup
7:45 am
Fri August 3, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

News roundup for Friday, August 3rd, 2012
User: Brother O'Mara Flickr

Boost for Detroit neighborhoods, schools

Governor Snyder was in Detroit yesterday to kick off an intensive neighborhood stabilization effort. It will focus on 3 neighborhoods, anchored by 9 Detroit schools.  Sarah Cwiek reports:

The effort kicked off outside Clark Preparatory Academy in Detroit’s Morningside neighborhood, on the city’s east side. Morningside is one of three communities that will get state help to demolish the abandoned homes dotting the neighborhood, and clean up the area. Lansing also plans to send in some state police patrols, and will put social workers in the neighborhood schools.

Governor Snyder says Detroit must strengthen its neighborhoods if the city is to truly come back.

“That’s the goal. We’re doing this because we believe it will work, and we want to get good experience and do continuous improvement, and then continue to ramp up the program.”

The state is putting $10 million into the effort so far, and Snyder says more could become available. City officials say the state helps supplement existing blight eradication programs.

 Republican Senate candidates hold primary season debate

Three Republicans running for their party’s U.S. Senate nomination appeared together yesterday in their only televised debate of this primary season. Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, charter school executive Clark Durant, and former judge Randy Hekman are running. Rick Pluta reports:

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Environment & Science
12:07 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

Coast Guard re-floats sunken tanker in Lake Huron

U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard says crews have salvaged a dredging barge that sank earlier this month in Lake Huron. The Associated Press reports crews re-floated the 100-foot Arthur J early this morning, and were in the process of taking it to a maintenance dock.

From the AP:

The Arthur J went down July 19 more than a mile from the Michigan shore near Lakeport, roughly 65 miles northeast of Detroit. A 38-foot tugboat that capsized at the same time was recovered earlier. The barge recovery operation stalled last week because of strong winds and choppy waters.

No one was hurt when the two vessels went down nearly six miles north of the entrance to the St. Clair River. Some fuel escaped after the accident, leaving a sheen on the water that reached land.

In a statement, the Coast Guard said salvage crews resumed dive operations Sunday at about 9 a.m. and successfully re-floated the dredge by using compressors to blow air into watertight compartments:

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue July 17, 2012

City officials ask residents to water stressed street trees

A stressed maple tree in Ann Arbor.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

City officials in Holland, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor are asking for a little help from residents. They're asking people to start watering trees along city streets – the ones between the curb and the sidewalk. 

Kerry Gray is an Urban Forestry & Natural Resources Planner with the City of Ann Arbor.

"Most of the trees are currently really under a lot of stress.  So we would obviously love people to water the street trees but we’d also love them to pay attention to the trees on private property as well."

She says trees need water immediately if you see wilting or curling leaves and if leaves or needles are dropping off.  Newly planted trees are especially at risk.

Here are some guidelines the Ann Arbor city foresters recommend for watering trees:

  • The morning hours are usually the best time to water
  • Slow, deep soakings are better than frequent light watering for both newly planted trees and established trees
  • For newly planted trees and small trees up to 4", a good watering is 10 gallons per inch of tree diameter applied in the mulched area around the tree, once per week.  A 3" diameter tree would need 30 gallons of water (3" x 10 gallons).  Newly planted trees should be watered weekly during the first 3 growing seasons.
  • For established medium trees (5"-12"), a general guideline for watering during prolonged dry periods is 10 gallons of water for every 1 inch diameter, three times per month.  For example, an 8" diameter tree will need 80 gallons of water.  To water, place a sprinkler or soaker hose in the dripline of the tree.  The dripline is the outer extent of the branch spread.  Move the sprinkler/hose around to ensure that all the roots in the dripline are watered. 
  • For large trees (greater than 13"), 15 gallons of water for every inch of diameter, two times per month during prolonged dry periods. A 14" tree would need 210 gallons of water. To water, use the method described above for medium trees. For established trees, do not water within 3 feet of the trunk; this can lead to root rot.
  • In normal precipitation years, mother nature provides the water an established tree needs and supplemental watering is typically not necessary.   

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Environment & Science
9:05 am
Tue July 10, 2012

Report: Waterfowl doing well in 'America's duck factory'

In a narrow swath of grass in a roadside ditch, a mallard hen nests her second brood of the season, a rare event for these ducks. Her first ducklings were killed by a predator.
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

If you’re a duck, this is a good news, bad news story. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes surveys of the ten most abundant duck species every year. 

Brad Bortner is Chief of the Division of Migratory Bird Management at the Fish and Wildlife Service.  He says this year’s survey recorded 48.6 million ducks. That’s the highest number of ducks recorded since the agency started keeping records in 1955.

"We’ve had a series of very good years on the prairies, with excellent water conditions and great habitat management and restoration programs," he said.

He says more than half of North America’s duck breeding happens in the prairie pothole region of the Dakotas and eastern Montana.  It’s nicknamed America’s duck factory.

Bortner says species such as mallards, gadwalls and redheads are all doing great, and he says the breeding duck populations in Michigan are doing well, too.

So, that’s the good news.  The bad news: some other duck species are not doing so well. 

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News roundup
7:32 am
Fri July 6, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

News roundup for Friday, July 6th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Power outages continue
 Utilities say crews worked through the night to restore electricity to thousands of Michigan homes and businesses without power following this week's severe thunderstorms, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu July 5, 2012

Q & A: Filmmaker talks about a night sky without stars

The Milky Way above an AZ observatory.
Wicked Delicate Films, LLC.

When was the last time you were someplace so dark that you could look up at the night sky and actually see the stars? Not just a handful, but hundreds or thousands?

“The Milky Way when it rises here looks like a thunderstorm coming toward you.  And you think, oh my god, it’s going to cloud over and it’s not, it’s the Milky Way rising, it’s the edge of our galaxy coming up.”

That’s a scene from a new documentary. It’s called The City Dark and it airs on PBS stations starting tonight (check your local listings).

The film takes a look at our love affair with artificial light – and why humans and wildlife need the night sky.  Ian Cheney directed and produced The City Dark and we spoke with him for today's Environment Report.  Cheney grew up in rural Maine but has been working in New York City. I asked him why he wanted to make this film.

Ian Cheney: Well, when I moved to New York City, one of the first things I realized was that I was missing the night sky, and that launched me on a journey to explore this broader topic of light pollution and how artificial light affects our world.

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Environment & Science
8:55 am
Thu July 5, 2012

Researchers measure role of urban greenery in carbon dioxide exchange

Emily Peters measures photosynthesis on trees in a suburban neighborhood from an aerial lift truck.
University of California-Santa Barbara

Scientists know a lot about how natural places process carbon dioxide.  But there hasn’t been a lot of research into what happens throughout the year in the green spaces in cities and suburbs.

Emily Peters is an author of a paper out this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research.  She’s been looking at how plants and trees in one suburban neighborhood take in carbon dioxide during the year... and how they offset the carbon dioxide people in the neighborhood emit – by say, driving their cars.

“In the summer we found the uptake of carbon dioxide from the vegetation is enough to offset fossil fuel emissions – just in the summer.”

She says evergreen and leafy trees took in more CO2 during the middle of the summer. Lawns did the best job of taking in CO2 during the spring and fall.  But Peters says those plants did NOT balance out the total amount of carbon dioxide released in the suburban neighborhood by burning fossil fuels over the year. 

If you're wondering: do certain species of trees do a better job than others?

"That is the question everybody wants answered - we can’t go out with this study and tell city foresters they should plant more of this kind of tree vs. this kind of tree."

News roundup
8:06 am
Thu July 5, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

News Roundup: Thursday, July 5th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Thunderstorms cause power outages

Utilities say more than 200,000 homes and businesses across Michigan are without power following several days of thunderstorms and hot weather, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

DTE Energy Co. says about 175,000 of its customers were without power Thursday morning after a new round of damaging thunderstorms made its way across the state, knocking down trees and power lines. Since Tuesday, DTE says about 300,000 of its customers have been affected. The National Weather Service says wind gusts above 60 mph were reported as storms crossed the state Thursday. The Flint Journal reports 23,800 Consumers Energy customers without power in Genesee County. WSGW-AM reports 5,500 without power Midland and Gladwin counties.

Appeals court reinstates Blackwell case

The state Court of Appeals has reinstated an embezzlement case against the former emergency manager for Highland Park. Sarah Hulett reports:

Arthur Blackwell II is accused of taking $264,000 in payments that were not authorized by state officials. The appeals court decision reverses a lower court ruling - which had dismissed the case. The lower court agreed with Blackwell - who said as the city's emergency manager, he had the authority to sign the checks to himself. The appeals court says there's enough evidence that Blackwell acted improperly to try him. Blackwell was appointed to fix Highland Park's finances in 2005, by then-governor Jennifer Granholm. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says she's pleased with the appeals court decision.

Debate over sand dune development

Governor Snyder signed legislation recently allowing Great Lakes property owners to use tillers to dig up plants on the shoreline, as long as they get a federal permit. But another fight is brewing over relaxing environmental rules to make it easier for developers to build on sand dunes. Rick Pluta reports:

Michigan has very stringent rules that prohibit building on environmentally sensitive dunes. Developers say it is possible to build on dunes set back from the shoreline without harming the view, or causing other environmental damage. The measure to relax those rules stalled just before the Legislature took its summer break, but negotiations continue in an effort to break the impasse. James Clift is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says there may be some room to relax the rules, but he says the state needs to ensure the Great Lakes shoreline is protected.

“So if the state of Michigan isn’t stepping up, these are dunes that are globally rare resources that are going to be under development pressure.”

Clift says the dunes are a draw for tourists, and also serve as habitat for rare or threatened species.

News Roundup
7:46 am
Tue July 3, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

News Roundup: Tuesday, July 3rd
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Enbridge may face record penalty for 2010 spill

Enbridge Energy is responsible for the pipeline rupture that spilled more than 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek near Marshall, MI.  EPA estimates that number is more than 1 million gallons.  Steve Carmody reports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration  (PHMSA) has spent the past few years reviewing the events that led up to the oil spill.  

PHMSA’s investigation found multiple violations of its hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations related to integrity management, failure to follow operations and maintenance procedures, and reporting and operator qualification requirements. PHMSA issued its notice and proposed civil penalty to Enbridge in a Notice of Probable Violation. The agency is proposing a fine for Enbridge of $3.7 million, which would be a record civil penalty. Enbridge has said the company expects to spend $700 million cleaning up the spill.

Michigan to receive $23.8 million from settlement of drug marketing case

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state is in line to get $23.8 million as part of a $3 billion settlement of an improper drug marketing case against GlaxoSmithKline LLC, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The U.S. Justice Department said Monday that the British pharmaceutical giant agreed to the payment and is pleading guilty to promoting two popular drugs for unapproved uses. The federal government says the company also admits failing to disclose important safety information on a third drug. Michigan was among states that sued the company. Schuette says GlaxoSmithKline underpaid the rebates in owed for drugs paid through Michigan's Medicaid program. The Justice Department says the $3 billion combined criminal-civil fine will be the largest penalty ever paid by a drug company.

June auto sales 

Analysts say U.S. auto sales continued to buck the otherwise poor economic news in June. Tracy Samilton reports:

Larry Dominique of True Car Dot Com says June car sales should be up about 18% from last June.    That's a pretty healthy increase given worries about the recession in Europe and the barely moving unemployment numbers in the U.S. 

Dominique says he will be interested to see what kind of cars people bought toward the end of June -- when gas prices went down noticeably. 

"Typical of Americans we tend to have short memories, so as fuel prices go down we tend to go towards larger displacements and trucks."

Dominique says Honda and Toyota had especially good sales in June.  He says the two companies have largely recovered from the tsunami last spring.

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu June 28, 2012

More tar sands oil in Michigan pipeline?

Workers measure pipe before cutting and removing the section from the Enbridge pipeline oil spill site near Marshall, Michigan. This photo was taken on August 6th, 2010.
EPA

Enbridge Energy is planning to replace an old pipeline that runs through Michigan.

It’s called Line 6B. That’s the same line that broke in Marshall nearly two years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency says more than one million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. 

Since the spill, Enbridge has been making repairs on that pipeline.   

Joe Martucci is a spokesperson for Enbridge. He says the new pipeline will cut down on the number of repairs they’ll have to make.

"The purpose and need of it is integrity driven and also to increase the capacity of the line at the same time."

After the Marshall spill, Enbridge was ordered to reduce the pressure in Line 6B.  That means there’s a lot less oil flowing through that pipeline now than there was before the spill.

Martucci says the new pipeline will allow Enbridge to double the amount of oil they can transport, up to 500,000 barrels per day.  There is the potential for the pipeline to move as much as 800,000 barrels per day. But Joe Martucci says they would have to add more equipment to do so, and file a new application with the state of Michigan.

He says oil from Alberta’s tar sands region will be the main product in their new pipeline. 

"The refiners and others are telling us they want more access to this oil and you know, it’s our job to try and provide them with a transportation capacity that makes that available."

Some landowners and environmental groups are worried about the idea of more tar sands oil moving through the Great Lakes region.

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Environment & Science
11:07 am
Fri June 22, 2012

Changing lights to reduce bird-tower collisions

These birds, labeled by species, were found at the base of an 850-foot television tower near Elmira, NY in the wake of Hurricane Floyd. Ornithologists say communications towers pose the greatest hazard to birds during periods of poor visibility.
Cornell University

Communications towers make all kinds of things possible. Emergency responders, TV stations, and wireless networks need them, and of course, when you listen to stories on the radio, they come to you by way of a tower.

These towers have lights on them at night so pilots can see them and avoid running into them.

But it turns out, some kinds of tower lights can be deadly for migratory birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups recently looked at bird-tower collisions in the U.S. and Canada. The study estimated that close to 7 million birds are killed each year. Neotropical songbirds that migrate at night are the most affected.

Joelle Gehring is a senior conservation scientist at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. It’s part of Michigan State University.

"We don’t understand the exact psyche of what’s going on with birds and why they’re attracted into the lights," she said, "but it is not unlike a moth attracted into a porch light."

She says during the spring and fall migration, birds that fly at night can get confused by the steady-burning lights on towers. She says cloudy or foggy nights make it hard for birds to navigate using stars.

"Some people believe that when the stars are obscured from vision of these migratory birds who are using stars and sunrise and sunset for navigation, that that is when they are drawn into the lights of the communication tower, that is when they start circling and circling and potentially hitting a guy wire or becoming simply exhausted," she said.

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Environment & Science
12:31 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Ladies' trash collecting group goes after garbage as a hobby

(L to R) Moy Garretson, Karen Rooke and Melinda Fons spend some of their free time picking up trash while they're out on walks together. They say it's more fun than working out at the gym.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

When you’re driving around southeast Michigan, you might happen to see three women on the side of the road. They’re all moms, but their kids are grown up. They work part time. They fill their free time by picking up trash... for fun.

"This is a beautiful area, and yet we have piles of garbage there."

Melinda Fons is with her friends Moy Garretson and Karen Rooke in suburban Detroit.

Karen: "Wagons roll!"

They get plastic grabbers and garbage bags out of the trunk. And they head into a little wooded patch next to a busy two-lane road.

Karen Rooke starts on the edges.

"I’ve got some cups, a newspaper and a plastic bag. And a credit card... ooh this is good. I’ll take that to the police."

The three women crawl under trees and into bushes to get the trash. There’s a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, empty rum bottles, a tire... and two more credit cards.

Karen: "I picked up 20 vodka bottles once and Listerine. I think it’s the kids that go drink down there. It’s just a quiet road, and have the Listerine so their parents – they think - don’t know. We were young once too!"

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News Roundup
7:52 am
Mon June 18, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup for Monday June 18, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Romney to wrap up Battleground Bus Tour in Michigan

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on a tour of half a dozen battleground states that winds up tomorrow in Michigan. Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta reports:

Romney will make three campaign stops and attend a pair of fundraisers.  Matt Frendeway is with the Michigan Republican Party.  He says the swing through Michigan is a signal that Romney will make a strong play for Michigan and its 16 electoral votes.

"He’s going to come to Michigan and talk to folks who are struggling under President Obama’s economy, under his failed policies. He’s going to be visiting small towns and talking to folks about the difficulties they’ve faced, the 400,000 Michiganders here who are still out of work, looking for work, looking for jobs."

Democrats have tried to make an issue of Romney’s opposition to federal loans to GM and Chrysler. But two recent polls show the race for Michigan’s 16 electoral votes is tightening.    
   
Rich Robinson tracks political spending for the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He says Romney appears to be benefiting from advertising by independent groups attacking the president’s job performance.

"They’re not explicitly saying, ‘Don’t vote for this guy,’ but the effect of what they’re doing is pretty obvious."

The Republican presidential nominee last won Michigan in 1988.

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Environment & Science
10:44 am
Thu June 14, 2012

Palisades nuclear power plant shuts down to fix water leak

The Palisades reactor
Mark Savage Entergy Nuclear Operations

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has an aluminum water tank that’s used in case of emergencies or when the plant needs to be refueled.  That water tank has been leaking for several weeks.  On Tuesday evening, the Palisades plant was shut down so workers can fix the leak.

The shutdown this week was a planned outage – so, in other words, the plant operators saw this coming.

Mark Savage is a spokesperson for Entergy, the company that owns the Palisades plant.  He says this tank has been leaking for several weeks. It’s an old aluminum tank that holds 300,000 gallons of water.  He says the tank is the same age as the Palisades plant: 40 years old.

It’s considered to be a small leak and the company has been collecting the water and monitoring it for weeks.  But on Tuesday the amount reached 31 gallons per day... and that was the threshold where the company determined the leak had to be fixed. So that means taking the plant out of service.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in charge of oversight on the country's nuclear power plants. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says the water leaking out of the tank does not pose any safety hazard.

"They’re collecting that water; it has no way of getting out of the plant. It cannot go outside and it does not pose a threat to plant workers and at this rate of leakage it does not compromise the plant’s stability or safety."

Entergy's Mark Savage declined to say how long the outage will last.  But he says the procedure is pretty straightforward:

"Shut the reactor down - which we’ve done, unload the water from the tank, find the leak, repair the leak, fill it up again and start the reactor back up."

This time around the shutdown was planned.  But Palisades had five unplanned shutdowns last year – and one of those was considered to be of substantial safety significance.  Because of that the power plant now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country, and that means the federal government is watching the plant more closely. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says they want to see how the plant operators handle this repair... and find out what caused the leak in the first place.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
9:20 am
Thu June 7, 2012

Volunteers hunt for moose bones on Isle Royale

Moosewatch volunteer Dave Beck holds up a marked antler. Team leader Jeff Holden looks on. They mark the antlers and hang them in a tree so others know the antler has been found and documented.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Wolves and moose are at the heart of the world’s longest running study of a predator and its prey.  The drama unfolds on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But it’s a big island, almost entirely wilderness.

The researchers from Michigan Tech say they can’t cover all that ground alone. 

So they have a program called Moosewatch.  It’s a backcountry expedition where you pay to help out with the wolf-moose study.  But be warned: it’s no easy little walk in the woods.

"We’re going to trash through the understory here for a third to half of a mile and see if we can find some dead moose."

That’s Jeff Holden. He’s a Moosewatch group leader, in charge of a group of six (himself plus five volunteers).  We’re going to push our way into the thick forest.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
9:00 am
Tue June 5, 2012

Watching the lives of wolves and moose unfold on Isle Royale

Rolf Peterson on Caribou Island, one of more than 450 smaller islands in the national park's archipelago.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

All this week, we’re visiting an island archipelago in Lake Superior.  Isle Royale National Park is so remote you can only get here by ferry or seaplane.  It's mostly wilderness.  Cell phones don’t work here. 

Wolves and moose have the run of the island.  It’s an ideal place for people who study the big mammals.

"A nine month old calf.  It looks like it might’ve just fallen down the rocky edge and never got up."

Rolf Peterson has come across a moose skeleton.  Mourning cloak butterflies are lapping up sodium from the bones.  With a yank and a twist, Peterson rips off the skull. 

"I think it’s least disruptive if we just saw off the back leg."

Every bone tells a story.  Peterson can tell how the moose lived and how it died.  He can tell whether it fell and broke its ribs, whether it starved or was killed by wolves.  

"We look for any abnormalities in any of the bones.  And particularly, how big it was, what its early developmental history and nutritional history was, which is key to its adult health."

Over the past 54 years, researchers have collected more than 4,ooo moose skeletons on the island.  The bones offer clues about the moose population – and about the wolves.  Wolves got here by crossing an ice bridge from Ontario in the late 1940’s.

This study of wolves and moose is the longest running study in the world of a predator and its prey.  Rolf Peterson has been involved for 42 years of the study. He’s been here through the brutal black fly summers and the harshest winters. He and his wife Candy live in an old fishing cabin on the island for much of the year.

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Environment & Science
10:40 am
Thu May 31, 2012

Flame retardant chemical detected in food

Flame retardant chemicals are in many of the products we use in our homes and offices. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies suggest the chemicals could be linked to a variety of health problems. Reiner Kraft

A flame retardant chemical that’s used in insulation and electrical equipment is showing up in food. It's called hexabromocyclododecane or HBCD. 

Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency says about the chemical:

HBCD is found world-wide in the environment and wildlife. It is also found in human breast milk, adipose tissue, and blood. It bioaccumulates in living organisms and biomagnifies in the food chain. It is persistent in the environment and is transported long distances.

HBCD is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. It also presents human health concerns based on animal test results indicating potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects.

Flame retardant chemicals are used in hundreds of consumer products. Certain kinds of these chemicals leach out of our couches, our TVs, our carpet padding and many other things in our homes. They've been found in household dust and in food, and they're getting into our bodies.

Linda Birnbaum is the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Toxicology Program.

She’s a senior author of a study out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and I spoke with her for today's Environment Report.  For the study, the team purchased 36 samples of foods common in American diets from Dallas, Texas supermarkets, including peanut butter, poultry, fish and beef.  HBCD was detected in 15 of the samples.

"We primarily found it in fatty foods of animal origin, so fatty animal products. This is a chemical that loves to be in the fat, and that’s where we’re finding it."

Williams: "Now, were the levels you found high enough to be of concern?"

Birnbaum: "The levels are very, very low. I would call this micro-contamination. In our 2010 study where we looked at the total presence of this chemical, at that point we estimated that the daily intake was about 1,000 fold lower than what is believed to be a safe dose."

HBCD is showing up in people's bodies. The study states that food "may be a substantial contributor to the elevated α-HBCD levels observed in humans."

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