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.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan is saying goodbye to nine of its smaller and older coal-burning power plants.

DTE Energy is closing two facilities. Consumers Energy will shutter seven more, which are nicknamed the "Classic Seven." I recently toured one of these aging workhorses of electricity, B.C. Cobb in Muskegon.

Photo courtesy of Central Michigan Life

The two reasons: 1) the process of moving water that far, and that high, wouldn't make economic sense; 2) Great Lakes water is locked down politically.

The ongoing drought in California has hit its fourth year. 

All photography and graphic design by Dave Brenner / SNRE

Bearded woodsmen are everywhere.

The Associated Press calls the look "lumberjack chic."

Outside magazine dubbed it lumbersexual (think: opposite of metrosexual). It's loosely defined as someone who looks like a lumberjack but hasn't chopped down an actual tree.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan has 883 operating wind turbines.

There’s been a big push for wind farms since 2008. That was when lawmakers decided a certain amount of our electricity must come from renewable resources, and utilities built wind turbines to comply.

Couches will flame retardants in them will still burn.
Mark H. Anbinder / Flickr

This week, we’re bringing you a series of stories about firefighters and cancer. Firefighters say they’re worried about getting exposed to certain kinds of toxic flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals are everywhere. They’re called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs. Firefighters are exposed to these chemicals in the line of duty, but they aren’t the only ones exposed.

For decades, these chemicals have been added to the foam in our couches, our chairs, and the padding underneath our carpets.

But they don’t stay put.

firefighters-South_Carolina-Natl-Guard-flickr.jpg

Firefighters have dangerous jobs. We all know that.

But a growing body of research suggests those dangers don’t go away once the flames are put out: several studies say firefighters have a significantly higher cancer risk, even when they’re young.

Brian Wybenga

Back in December, there was a toxic spill in Detroit.

In my kitchen.

It was a Sunday morning. My kids were watching a cartoon. I was reading the paper. And my husband, who does some small-time antiques dealing in his spare time, was monkeying around with one of his treasures in the kitchen.

Kathy Evans, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission

They're known as "Areas of Concern" and Michigan had 14 of them at one time.

Now, we have 12 of these toxic places where pollution from the past is lingering.

This summer, work crews will tackle the next phase of cleanup in the Muskegon Lake area.

Martin Schwalbe

There’s plastic trash in every one of the Great Lakes.

That plastic includes junk people leave at the beach, microbeads from consumer products such as shower gel, face wash and toothpaste, and pellets from plastic manufacturing.

NOAA

More than 7,000 square miles of land in the Great Lakes region changed in some way from 1996 to 2010. That’s roughly equal to the surface area of Lake Ontario.

That’s according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Leslie Clapp / Courtesy NestWatch

Spring means Michiganders breaking out the shorts when it's above 40 degrees, grocery store aisles full of marshmallow bunnies, and itty-bitty baby birds.

You can help keep an eye on those babies as part of the citizen science project NestWatch. It's a program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Cornell Lab has been monitoring nesting birds for 50 years, and more than 130 studies have relied on the data from NestWatch.

Rusty Tanton / Flickr/user

Lawmakers want to overhaul our nation’s chemical safety law, but there’s a lot of disagreement about how to do that.

In the U.S., chemicals are innocent until proven guilty.

If officials at the Environmental Protection Agency want to ban a chemical, they need to provide a lot of proof that it’s harmful for us or the environment. As the EPA's Dale Kemery once explained to me, "EPA can ban chemicals if it can demonstrate that they present an unreasonable risk. This is a relatively high regulatory standard and requires a substantial amount of high quality exposure and hazard information."

The law we currently have on the books is 39 years old. It’s called the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA. It’s been widely criticized as toothless and outdated.

Allen Kurta / Eastern Michigan University

  

The northern long-eared bat is a little thing with brown fur.  And its ears are longer than average, for a bat.

In winter, it hangs out in mines and caves in the Upper Peninsula.

Could drones detect leaks at oil and gas sites?

Mar 12, 2015
Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Some people think drones could help detect pollution and dangerous leaks from the oil and gas business. The technology is taking off, but federal regulations could hold back the use of these drones.

The old Velsicol chemical plant site from across the Pine River.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The City of St. Louis, Michigan needs a new water system. That’s because pollution from the old Velsicol Chemical plant is leaking into St. Louis’ water supply

They’re planning to get that water upriver from the city of Alma.

Listen as we ride along with this dog sled team

Mar 10, 2015
Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front

Racing across a frozen landscape behind a team of dogs — it’s not just for Alaskans. Dog sledding is popular in our neck of the woods, too. 

We got a chance to go along for a ride.

Matt Philips and Sarah White are unloading precious cargo—their dogs—from the backseat of a black hatchback.

Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory

It’s another big year for the majestic white birds from the north.

Snowy owls summer in the Arctic. Sometimes they fly south in the winter in big migrations called irruptions.  In a typical year, we might end up with a few dozen snowy owls in the Great Lakes region.

But in an irruption year the owls can come south by the hundreds or even thousands.

Diane McAllister

People who identify birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count logged a record 5,090 species this winter. That’s just about half the bird species in the world.

It’s part of a huge data collection effort each winter. It’s run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, and also Bird Studies Canada.

User:Phils1stPix / Flicker

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service commissioned a report on the commercial grass carp industry. Grass carp are one of four species of Asian carp that officials are concerned about.

They’re used to control vegetation in lakes and ponds, and some people like to eat them. 

Steve Carmody

Many Flint residents have been complaining about the quality of their tap water since the city stopped getting water from Detroit. Some people blame the Flint River. The city’s been using the river since April as its drinking water source. 

Mobile technology can help pinpoint when and where children are exposed to air pollution.
American Chemical Society

A team of researchers in Spain attached sensors to school age kids. Then, they used a smartphone to track how much air pollution (black carbon, a component of soot) they were exposed to at home and school in real time. The researchers did this work as part of a larger epidemiological study on air pollution and brain development.

Mark Nieuwenhuijsen is an author of the study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. He says the real time monitoring fills in gaps in data and gives a better picture of what the children are exposed to during the day.

He says they’re working to make this technology available to everyone.

Icare4autism.com

Arsenic is poisonous. But scientists are still trying to figure out what it does to us at very low doses.

A research team has found breastfed infants have lower exposure to arsenic than babies who exclusively drink formula.

Rachel Kramer / User: Flickr

A research team has discovered high levels of flame retardants in bald eagles in Michigan.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are in all kinds of consumer products.  They're in our couches, our TVs, our cars, our office chairs, the padding beneath our carpets, and the dust in our homes. But the chemicals don’t stay put. They leach out and build up in people and in wildlife.

"What we found was that some of the eagles, particularly in Michigan, had some of the highest exposures to flame retardant chemicals in the world," says Nil Basu, a professor at McGill University in Montreal.

John Niedermaier / Brewery Terra Firma

There are now more than 200 licensed breweries in Michigan. And that is starting to change the rural landscape up north.

This month, an investment group in Traverse City finalized plans to plant up to 400 acres of hops. That would roughly double the amount of hops now growing in Michigan.

And it signals the arrival of big investors into the business.

jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Flint switched from Detroit’s water system last year and is now using the Flint River until it can hook up to Lake Huron.

But there have been major problems. Residents complain about the water tasting and smelling bad. The Department of Environmental Quality cited Flint in December for violating the Safe Water Drinking Act. 

Julie Grant

New pipelines are good for energy companies, but they often disturb private property. The Nexus pipeline would run 250 miles from gas wells in southeast Ohio to Michigan and Canada. Julie Grant reports it’s drawing opposition from landowners concerned about their safety and property rights.

David Kenyon / Michigan DNR

Snowy owls spend their summers in the Arctic. Sometimes, they fly south in the winter in big migrations called irruptions.  In a typical year, we might end up with a few dozen snowy owls in the Great Lakes region.

Last year was a mega-irruption, a really rare event. Snowy owls came south by the thousands. Some birds got all the way down to Florida and Bermuda.

Scott Weidensaul is one of the founders of Project SNOWstorm. It’s a group of owl experts who are raising money to track the owls

http://www.seafoodwatch.org/

There’s a new report card of sorts out on fish sold commercially from the Great Lakes.

It’s from Seafood Watch. That’s a program at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Graymont is seeking to buy thousands of acres of state-owned land and mineral rights for a proposed limestone mining operation near Rexton.
User clau+ / flickr.com

Next month, a decision could be made on whether to sell thousands of acres in the Upper Peninsula to a Canadian mining company, Graymont Inc.

It would be the largest sale of public land in Michigan’s history.

The coal-burning Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan is being kept afloat by ratepayers in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin.
WE Energies

In his State of the State address this week, Governor Snyder said we need a long-term energy policy.

“It needs to be an adaptable policy, because of the lack of federal policy and the challenges of a global marketplace," he said. "We need to focus on important things such as eliminating energy waste, and the conversion from coal to natural gas—an asset of the state of Michigan—and renewables."

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