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.

Flickr user PROUSFWSmidwest / Flickr

Each invasive sea lamprey can kill 40 pounds of fish a year in the Great Lakes.

We spend more than $28 million in federal money each year to control the lampreys (according to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, $20.9 million goes to sea lamprey control measures and more than $3 million is spent on sea lamprey research).

Michael Wagner is an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

He’s one of the researchers at MSU testing out ways to attract sea lampreys into traps.


There’s a tree killer on the loose.

It’s called the Asian longhorned beetle. It has a shiny black body with white spots, and really long antennae.

It’s not known to be in Michigan yet, but the pest has invaded Ohio. So officials want you to keep your eyes open.

Rhonda Santos is with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She says we should be on the lookout for the beetles in our yards and community spaces.

Aaron Selbig/Interlochen Public Radio

Since the 1930s, Sargent Sand Company has held a permit to mine sand from its property that's surrounded by Ludington State Park.

For years, the 400 acre mine was dormant as the company negotiated to sell its land to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

That sale fell through.

Last year, the mine cranked back up again, and the neighbors aren’t too happy about it.

Flickr user Andy Rogers / Flickr

If you’re eating right now, you might want to take a little break.

We’re going to take a moment to talk about fecal bacteria.

Researchers at Michigan State University have done some detective work on septic tanks in Michigan, and they’ve found these tanks are leaking bacteria.

The search for the next great bee

Aug 4, 2015
Lou Blouin

Honey bees pollinate about a third of the crops in the U.S—that’s about $15 billion of the agricultural economy. But honeybees have had a tough time lately: a combination of diseases, stress, parasites and pesticides have all hurt the honey bee population.

Scientists are starting to look at how other species of bees could help pick up the slack.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

There’s a bloom of cyanobacteria in Lake Erie right now. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting it could become the second worst on record.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and it has something the other Great Lakes don’t — stable populations of mostly native fish species.

But scientists say a key fish in Superior’s food web is now in trouble because of mild winters and an appetite for caviar in Europe.

The confluence of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River in 2010 (left), and in 2015 (right).
USEPA and Mark Brush / USEPA, Michigan Radio

Five years ago today, an oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan split open, starting the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The heavy tar sands oil came from Enbridge Energy's pipeline 6B. The oil flowed into Talmadge Creek and then into the Kalamazoo River.

Riding down the Kalamazoo River on a tube. As part of a settlement with the state, Enbridge built access points to the river. Those who know the river say they're seeing more people enjoying it these days.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history happened right here in Michigan. Now that five years have passed, we checked in with people who were affected by the spill.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 6B broke open on July 25, 2010. The massive oil spill changed life for a lot of people in the small town of Marshall and along the Kalamazoo River.

Kimberly Springer / Michigan Radio

Five years ago, on July 25, 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst, causing the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

One of the rumors you can still hear about the incident is that the company must have dumped a surfactant into the Kalamazoo River to help break up the oil. The chemical is called corexit, and it can be harmful to humans.

Regulators and Enbridge deny corexit was ever used for the Kalamazoo spill. But that hasn’t put the rumor to rest.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent. Enbridge performs inspections, but won't share what they find.
Credit an Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

People in Michigan are naturally concerned about the thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing the state. After all, Michigan suffered through the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.  

And there's one pipeline in particular that people are quite concerned about: Enbridge's Line 5 moves more than 500,000 barrels of oil and other liquid petroleum products (like propane) a day under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

You might’ve heard about cougars being spotted in Michigan. There are also cougars out west and there’s the Florida panther. But what we’re talking about here is something called the eastern cougar.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Especially in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. They burned everything from tires, batteries, and plastic to human and medical waste.

Curtis Gibson is an Air Force veteran. He served in Afghanistan in late 2011.

“I’d see things floating in the air — burned papers — you see them floating through the air so you know you’re taking something in,” Gibson says.

He says he had a medical exam when he came home to Detroit.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

In Afghanistan and Iraq, especially in the early years, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. 

“A burn pit’s just a big hole in the ground. You push dirt up and just have trash there, and light it on fire and walk away,” says Army veteran Eric Mullins.

Mullins and I met up in Campus Martius Park in Detroit, near where he works.

He served in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2008. On his first tour, he was assigned to burn barrels of human waste.

Flickr user St Stev / Flickr

Pity the lowly wood pallet. Nobody thinks about it. But it does so much work.

Most merchandise in supermarkets and big box stores is shipped on wood pallets. There are roughly two billion wood pallets circulating in the U.S.

Flickr / bitznbitez

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the state of Michigan, other states, and industry groups in a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions rules.

The justices ruled the EPA was unreasonable when it refused to consider costs in its initial decision to regulate mercury emissions from power plants.

Read the Supreme Court's ruling in Michigan vs. EPA here.

Sarah Cwiek

When Metro Detroit got hit by an unprecedented rainstorm last August, it unleashed massive flooding — and an estimated ten billion gallons of raw sewage — into the region’s waterways. 

That was an extreme event. But those types of downpours are happening more and more, and for decades Detroit’s aging water system has dealt with sewage overflows.

flickr user Andres Pérez / Flickr

Scientists study chemicals for their potential to cause cancer, but usually they examine them one at a time.

And yet, we’re exposed to mixtures of different chemicals every day.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission

If you ever get a chance to meet a sea lamprey, you won’t forget it.

They look like an eel but they’re actually a fish. They have a suction cup for a face, with hundreds of razor sharp teeth.

A new threat to Michigan rattlesnakes

Jun 16, 2015
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

When you think about rattlesnakes, you might picture Arizona. Or Texas. Somewhere out in the desert. But one snake’s rattle doesn’t come from the deserts of the Southwest. It’s from the pine forests of Michigan.

In fact, Michigan is a stronghold for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Aerial photo of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine Ontario.
Chuck Szmurlo / Wikimedia Commons

The decision on a nuclear waste storage site near Lake Huron has been kicked down the road a bit.

Flickr / Sarah Craig, Faces of Fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 25,000-30,000 new oil and gas wells were drilled and hydraulically fractured annually in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014.

A feature article in the journal Health Affairs says the body of research on the potential health effects of all this fracking is "slim and inconclusive."

Zachary Huang / MSU

Honey bees are under attack from a lot of threats.

Researchers say varroa mites are the biggest threat. They suck blood from bees, and can kill entire colonies.

Zachary Huang is an associate professor at Michigan State University. He says these mites use a special skill to attack bee hives. They can change how they smell, so the bees don’t know they’re there. They can actually mimic the smell of a honey bee.


The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor has just come out with its 5th report on toxic chemicals in car seats. The nonprofit group analyzes car seats for the presence of heavy metals and flame retardants.  Flame retardant chemicals can migrate out of products like car seats and build up in dust, and then they can get into our bodies.

Terry Kreeger / Wyoming Game and Fish Department/CWD Alliance

Last week, state officials confirmed they found chronic wasting disease in a wild deer for the first time. Michigan now joins 22 states and two Canadian provinces where the disease has been found.

The State of Michigan is weighing whether to open the door to commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes.

Millions of rainbow trout are raised for food by Canadians every year in Lake Huron and promoters of the business say Michigan should follow suit and could even become a world leader in aquaculture.

State officials are trying to figure out what the risks are and the idea is likely to face opposition from sport fishing groups and other conservationists.

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

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey want to find out where Asian carp eggs will have the most success.

They’re using a model nicknamed FluEgg to predict which rivers in the Great Lakes region are the most suitable for Asian carp to reproduce. The fish are not established here yet, but scientists want to be ready in case they do get in and get comfortable.

Relative sizes of ticks at different life stages.

Time to break out the long pants: tick season is back!

The past couple of years we've had a tick boom along the west side of the state and it's happening again this year.

Rich Keith spends a lot of time with ticks. He’s the director of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory. He and his wife Brenda have been doing tick surveys every year since 1997 for university researchers in Michigan and elsewhere.

Monarch caterpillars can die if they are exposed to milkweed that has been treated with neonicitinoids, a type of insecticide.
Monarch Watch

Monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive, but some plants you buy for your garden could be toxic to them.

There’s been a big drop in the monarch butterfly population. By some estimates, they’ve declined by more than 90 percent over the past 20 years.

Monarch Watch

Monarch butterflies are not around in the numbers they used to be — not by a long shot. By some estimates, monarch populations have dropped by 90% over the past twenty years. 

But why has that happened to these iconic butterflies?