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The Environment Report

Tuesdays & Thursdays at 8:50 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

Ross and Donna Tingley
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

At least 14 communities in Michigan have water contaminated with a family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

One of those sites, in West Michigan, has gotten a lot of attention recently. This month, the state abruptly announced a cleanup standard for PFAS.

But these chemicals have been a pollution problem in the state for years.

In Oscoda, some residents are wondering why remediation is taking so long.

Donna Dewhurst / USFWS

A new study in the journal Science finds there are genetic differences in yellow warblers that live in different parts of the U.S. and Canada, and some of those populations seem to be more genetically vulnerable to climate change than others.

Rachael Bay is the lead author of the study, at the University of California-Davis.

“We did some genome sequencing and we found a bunch of genes that seem to be associated with whether yellow warblers live in warmer or drier or hotter or colder areas," she says.

Lake Superior
Helena Jacoba / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

More than three centuries of thriving marine commerce and those notorious storms in the Great Lakes have given Michigan a wealth of historic shipwrecks. There are nearly a thousand on the bottomlands of the state's 13 designated underwater preserves alone. But Michigan's mostly volunteer system of protecting the shipwrecks is showing signs of trouble. 

Ryan Utz / Chatham University

There’s too much salt getting into our rivers and streams.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds over the past 50 years, freshwater systems across the country have become saltier, and that can cause problems for people, wildlife and our infrastructure.

FLICKR USER USFWS MIDWEST / FLICKR / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Scientists might have found a new way to combat white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungus killing millions of bats in the U.S. and Canada.

Ben Abbott / Courtesy MSU

Streams can tell us a lot about the health of an ecosystem. But some researchers say we can do a better job of paying attention to those streams.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

Getting exposed every day to certain kinds of air pollution can lead to a higher risk of premature death if you’re over 65.

That's the finding of a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Francesca Dominici is a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and an author of the study.

School plane
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There are about 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes. Most are uninhabited. But for those who live year-round on about 30 of them, it can be an isolating experience. Now, Great Lakes islanders are getting together to tackle some of the problems they have in common.

Should we ever leave invasives alone?

Dec 21, 2017
Rebecca Thiele

Invasive plants and animals are an expensive problem in the United States.

Federal agencies spent more than $104 million last year to control them. But a study on the garlic mustard plant shows that it might be better to leave some invasives alone. 

Garlic mustard is a forest plant with heart-like leaves and clusters of white flowers. It can grow up to about four feet tall and is often the first green plant you’ll see in the spring.

Europeans settlers brought it to the United States in the 1800s as an herb for cooking. It was also used to treat ulcers and gangrene.

Paul Vugteveen, a chef in Battle Creek, uses the plant in his cooking. He says it has a garlicky, oniony flavor and is best served raw. 

The Impossible Burger
Kara Holsopple

Scientists have created a vegan burger that bleeds like beef. It’s called the Impossible Burger and its creators argue it’s better for the planet. But there are some questions about the substance the company uses.

Sarah Bird

 

"When can we eat the fish?”

That’s what the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wants to know.

 

Officials in Michigan issue fish advisories. Those recommend limits on how much fish we eat because of toxic chemicals that can build up in fish.

 

Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes are at greater risk because they eat a lot of fish.

 

For years, there was a focus on trying to get tribes to follow the advisories more closely. But some people argue that’s the wrong way to tackle the problem.

 

A small fish is held in a net.
Sarah Bird

 


If you eat wild caught fish from Michigan, you might know about fish consumption advisories. They’re recommended limits on safe amounts of fish to eat, and they're necessary because toxic chemicals build up in fish in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and streams.

Japanese knotweed is a prohibited invasive plant species in Michigan.
USDA Forest Service

Invasive species tend to do well in new places, and they can push out native species. There’s an assumption that they do better in the same kind of environment as the country they came from.

But scientists have found that some invasive plants can change and adapt to new continents and new climates.

D. Tallamy, courtesy of Desiree Narango

Native plants are better for birds than non-native plants.

That’s the main finding of a study on chickadees and the caterpillars they eat.

A "no trespassing" sign from the House Street site boundary.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

People in northern Kent County have been dealing with the recent discovery of groundwater contamination for the past several months.

Some residents still have questions about what caused it and how it could affect their health.

Photo by Scott McArt, used with permission.

We’ve heard a lot about honeybees and how important they are as pollinators. But bumblebees pollinate wildflowers and crops, too, and some kinds of bumblebees are in trouble.

notices
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Because of the Flint water crisis, several Michigan cities are making long term plans to replace old lead water pipes that connect homes to the water main.

That is good for public health, but well-meaning municipal water operators can actually make lead exposure worse if they’re not careful.

There’s a mix of lead and copper pipes buried near the corner of Trinity and Florence in a neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side. When I visited a month ago the block was lined with nice, two story brick homes and orange construction barrels. It smelled like diesel.

1992 LCR document from Battle Creek
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

One of the things Flint’s water operators got in trouble for was falsifying records; for saying the city was testing homes at the highest risk of having elevated lead levels when it was not. But records obtained by Michigan Radio show Flint is not the only city in the state that tested the wrong homes over the years and potentially underestimated lead in water.

The biggest culprit for high lead in tap water is the lead water pipes that connect a house to the water main. That’s why cities are supposed to test those homes.

Grass carp
USGS

There are several federal agencies in charge of trying to control Asian carp, and they just came out with their latest report to Congress on how those efforts are going.

Natural gas power plant in California
David Monniaux / Wikimedia Commons

The reliability of our power supply is vulnerable to climate change. But the grid can be made more adaptable.

Those are the conclusions of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Wild rice harvesting
Dan Kraker

For generations, Native Americans in the northern Great Lakes have harvested wild rice. It's an important food source. For some it's a way to make a little extra cash. And it's a cultural touchstone that tribal members are trying to pass on to younger generations.

Sea lamprey
Photo courtesy of USFWS

Lakes Superior and Erie have too many sea lampreys.

The invasive fish latch onto big fish like lake trout and salmon and drink their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Aaron Selbig / Interlochen Public Radio

A group in northern Michigan has been working for more than a decade to connect a bike trail between Suttons Bay and Harbor Springs.

But now, one legislator says the proposed path could harm the agriculture industry.

Representative Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, says local farmers have concerns about security and safety along the route.

Catt Liu

If you hit the grocery stores in the Toledo area a couple weeks ago, hoping to pick up some bottled water, you were out of luck.

Several stores completely sold out, thanks to rumors that the city would soon be issuing another “do not drink” advisory for tap water. It didn’t.

But water pollution in the Maumee River and western Lake Erie is creating harmful blooms so large, you can literally see them from space.

M. Horath

Canada geese have been spending their winters farther north.

Scientists have figured out geese are drawn to cities for safety more so than for food.

Michael Ward is an associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s an author of a study on Canada geese in the Chicago region.

Ward and his team fitted Canada geese with radio collars and tracked them for two years, trying to understand why there are so many geese in Chicago during the winter.

“And what we learned was that they weren’t going there for food, they were going there because there were no hunters,” he explains. “So all of the Canada geese that spent the winter in Chicago survived, whereas half of the birds that decided to leave the Chicagoland area and go to areas where hunting is allowed and more prevalent were harvested.”

Ward says geese are all about conserving energy.

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

People are gathering in Buffalo this week for the annual Great Lakes restoration conference.

At the top of their list is making sure Congress fully funds the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the 2018 budget.

President Trump’s proposed budget included massive cuts to the GLRI.

Todd Ambs is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Pete Markham / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lake Superior is cold, deep and clear. But it’s no longer the clearest of the Great Lakes.

Lakes Michigan and Huron have gotten clearer, bumping Lake Superior to number three.

Scientists have been able to figure how much clearer by using satellite imagery.

Kerry Wixted / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Forests in our region are under attack from a shrub.

The culprit is an ornamental plant called Japanese barberry. It was introduced from Asia in the late 1800s. It’s been in used in landscaping in Michigan for decades, but it’s considered invasive.

I just found out I have some in my front yard.

They’re pretty, with bright red berries that birds love to eat.

The Velsicol Superfund sites in St. Louis, Michigan.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

Researchers find there could be more health effects lingering decades after a toxic contamination of Michigan’s food supply.

Map showing the land owned by the Huron Mountain Club as of 2006.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

Well... it's not an absolute "no."

It's more of a "probably not," given what we've learned about the Huron Mountain Club in reporting this story.

We'll get to the downright practical ways you might get into the club below. In the meantime, we'll just say it doesn't hurt your chances if you’re Channing Tatum, or related to Henry Ford (and even Ford had trouble getting in).

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