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.

Lindsey Scullen/Michigan Radio

Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, says she doesn’t want to waste any time getting rid of the city’s old lead service lines.

It’s those lines – which bring water from the main to Flint houses – that have caused so much trouble in the city. Flint did not treat the water from the Flint River properly. That meant it ate away at those pipes and contaminated the water in many homes with lead.

www.defense.gov

When Michigan firefighters get work-related cancer, they’re supposed to be covered by the state. But that’s not happening. 

Because more than a year after lawmakers created a cancer-coverage fund for firefighters, they still haven't put any money in it. 

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

It’s been almost four months since Flint went back to buying water from Detroit’s water system.

Here’s the good news: Since January, more than 90 percent of water tests have come back below the federal action level for lead of 15 parts per billion.

But there are still some insanely high lead levels in some homes. Take a look at a map of where those are, and you'll see there’s no pattern.

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding public meetings on Tuesday about a proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha, Wisconsin wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes.

It has a radium problem in its groundwater supply. Radium occurs naturally, but it’s a carcinogen.

The city wants to divert 10.1 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan in the beginning, and up to 16.7 million gallons a day by 2050.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday afternoon they’ve sent a “public health strike team” to Flint.

HHS says it has sent in more than a dozen officers with the Commissioned Corps. That’s a uniformed service of public health experts.

They’ll be doing follow-up medical visits with kids whose tests have come back with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Flint River and water plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It's still not safe to drink the tap water in Flint.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it's stepping in to test water, along with the state.

Mark Durno is the on-scene coordinator for the EPA. He says the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is still in charge of testing for lead in water samples from people’s homes. Durno says the EPA is then going into the homes with very high lead levels (greater than 150 ppb) to find out what’s going on.

The DEQ did not require Flint to treat its water to prevent lead from leaching from old pipes and faucets.

Flickr user USFWSmidwest/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

  

An industrial chemical is showing up in trout from the Great Lakes. It’s called perfluoro-1-butane sulfonamide, or FBSA.

Researchers traced this chemical back to several products on the market. Those include detergents and surfactants first used in 2003. Surfactants are materials made to stainproof and waterproof products.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Donations of bottled water have been flooding into Flint.

Making sure people have safe drinking water is the top priority in Flint right now. But some people are wondering about one side effect of the water crisis: where all those empty bottles are ending up.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Marathon Petroleum refinery in southwest Detroit is no stranger to controversy. But its request to increase sulfur dioxide emissions has sparked a major backlash. The company has done a huge expansion of its southwest Detroit refinery in the past few years.

People in Flint are relying on bottled water while officials try to figure out how to fix the tap water.
Michigan State Police

In his State of the State address this week, Governor Rick Snyder apologized to people in Flint for the water crisis. 

“I’m sorry most of all that I let you down,” he said. “You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know that the buck stops here with me. Most of all, you deserve to know the truth, and I have a responsibility to tell the truth.”

The governor said he would release his emails related to Flint. Those emails came out late yesterday afternoon.

In general, the emails didn’t divulge anything big. They pretty much underscored what’s already been revealed. That the state didn't recognize the severity of the problem, and downplayed or dismissed the warning signs.

Credit Flickr user David Salafia/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Researchers are looking into the possible ripple effects of lead exposure. 

After the city of Flint switched to the Flint River for its drinking water, experts found the number of kids with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled.

Even low levels of lead can cause kids to lose IQ points and end up with behavior problems.

Pollution from the former site of Mount Clemens Metal Products has been spreading across Antrim County for decades, contaminating trillions of gallons of groundwater with trichloroethylene, a cancer-causing chemical.
DEQ

Michigan has more than 280 contaminated sites that are “orphans.” That means the company that made the mess no longer exists and the state has to deal with it.

But Michigan is running out of money to tackle these environmental problems. That was not good news for Antrim County, home to one of the largest contaminated sites in the country. State management of an underground plume of trichlorethylene (TCE) has been crucial here for years and will be needed in the future.

Mark Brush/Michigan Radio

Battery-powered cars and trucks seem to be winning the day as the way forward to increase fuel efficiency and to cut carbon pollution.

But there was a time when we heard a lot about fuel cells. The cells convert hydrogen into electricity that can then power a car or truck.

That hype died down as people realized there are significant barriers to powering our vehicles with hydrogen.

Flickr user Jim, the Photographer/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

This week, two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on notice.

They’re planning to sue the agency because they say it’s dragging its feet on protecting the monarch butterfly.

Reid Frazier/Allegheny Front

We know that burning coal produces greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But it's also a big source of other types of air pollution that can cause disease and even death.

Around the country, dozens of coal-burning power plants are racing to comply with new Environmental Protection Agency rules to keep mercury out of the air.

In Michigan, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are both spending roughly $2 billion to comply with new air rules.

The biggest Environment Report stories of the year

Dec 30, 2015
Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory

About 44 feet below the surface of the water, 12 miles northeast of Sandusky in western Lake Erie

The Cleveland Underwater Explorers (CLUE) discovered the wreck on August 28th. It was believed to be a vessel called the Argo that sank in 1937.

Taylor Ogilvie is the general manager at Mt. Brighton.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Taylor Ogilvie would really like to make some more snow. He’s the general manager at the Mt. Brighton ski area. So far, conditions haven't been quite right very often.

Standing at the bottom of one of the hills, Ogilvie gestures to the mostly green slopes. "We’re looking at a bunch of water," he says. "Kind of icy, snowy stuff that we put out of our snow guns last night.”

He says they’ve had a few good days, but for the most part, it’s been too warm and too humid for snow-making to work well. So they’ve just been waiting.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Updated 10:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech researchers accuse Michigan health officials of trying to “stonewall” the investigation into lead in Flint’s drinking water.

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, are available online. 

Marc Edwards says newly obtained internal documents show Department of Health and Human Services employees tried to hide evidence that matched the increased lead levels in children found by doctors at Hurley Medical Center.

NASA Goddard Media Studios

It’s possible to track air pollution from space.

NASA scientists did that with high-resolution satellite maps. To gather the data, they used an ozone monitoring instrument on board NASA’s Aura satellite. That tool tracks atmospheric gasses.

The team of NASA scientists tracked emissions of nitrogen dioxide from 2005 to 2014. Nitrogen dioxide comes from cars, power plants, and industries, and it plays a major role in forming smog.

Flickr user Jenn Durfey/Flickr

Waukesha wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes.

The city is in southeast Wisconsin, 17 miles from Lake Michigan. It has a radium problem in its groundwater supply.

Radium occurs naturally, but it’s a carcinogen.

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, says as the city’s groundwater supply has been drawn down, it’s made the high radium concentration worse.

“And ultimately the radium exceeded the federal drinking water standard and we are now under a court order to come into compliance with that, and the means by which we are going to do that is to develop a new water supply,” he says.

The city has to come up with a permanent solution for its radium problem by 2018.

Lindsey Scullen/Michigan Radio

Amy Beth Edwards posed this question to our M I Curious team:

Why doesn't road kill get picked up on a timely basis in Michigan?

Edwards says she sees dead animals so often along her commutes to Chicago that she had to know why they're all there.

Flickr user Mike Bell / Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Recent changes to the rules for deer hunting are changing the sport.

The rules apply to much of the northern Lower Peninsula, and they're more restrictive, making it harder to shoot a buck.

Plenty of hunters objected when they were put in place.

But after a few years, some say it’s a dramatic improvement and could make the region a hunting destination for people from other states.

A closeup view of spotted wing drosophila, collected by researchers near Traverse City.
Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center

A pesky insect that loves to invade fruit has found its way to northern Michigan’s cherry orchards. Scientists have had their eye on spotted wing drosophila since it arrived in the U.S. from Asia in 2008. 

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents. Dr. Edwards and his team there were among the first to call attention to lead contamination in Flint's water.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

The Flint water crisis has uncovered all kinds of details about how cities test the safety of their drinking water.

In particular, critics say the state is giving bad advice on testing drinking water for lead.

The state of Michigan tells cities to do something called pre-flushing.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard has been responding to a leaky shipwreck on the bottom of western Lake Erie.

The shipwreck is believed to be the Argo. It’s a tank barge that sank in 1937 and it’s considered the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

DAVID KENYON MICHIGAN DNR

Snowy owls are doing some unusual things again this year.

The last two winters, people in Michigan saw a lot of them. There were big migrations of owls called irruptions – that’s when they fly south from their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

This year, researchers don’t expect those big numbers again, but they are surprised by how early owls are arriving.

Most snowy owls start arriving here in the middle of November into December, but owls started showing up in the Great Lakes region in mid-October this year.

Tap water in a Flint hospital on Oct. 16, 2015.
Joyce Zhu / Flintwaterstudy.org

The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s conducting a full review of what happened in Flint.

For more than a year, state officials assured city residents their water was safe. Those assurances turned out to be wrong.

And it wasn’t until some residents got outside experts involved -- who not only found elevated lead levels in the drinking water, but that blood lead levels were also rising in Flint kids – that the state admitted there was a problem.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard says it has not found any active oil leaks from a 78-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck site is 12 miles northeast of Sandusky.

The tank barge is believed to be the Argo. Records show it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil when it sank. No one knows what's still on board, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the Argo to be the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Gord Cole

A report on fish farming in the Great Lakes suggests Michigan should move carefully if it allows the industry to start up.

State officials asked a panel of scientists to study the issue. There have been two proposals from companies that want to start raising rainbow trout in net pens in the Great Lakes.

Canadians raise millions of trout in Lake Huron every year and some people want Michigan to do the same.

Staples

Big businesses often oppose increased regulations. But not always: take the Clean Power Plan. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule requires states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

The coal industry and some states, including Michigan (Attorney General Bill Schuette joined the lawsuit), are fighting the rule. But, hundreds of businesses have stepped forward to support it.

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