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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.

Dredging on the River Raisin. A mechanical dredge removing material on July 11, 2012.
USEPA

State and federal officials are celebrating the completion of a twenty-year river cleanup effort in southeast Michigan.

The River Raisin was once one of the most polluted rivers in Michigan. It will soon be clean enough for both commercial navigation and recreational use.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the cleanup effort is in its final stage, which is set to be finished by the end of October.

Cameron Davis is senior advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video / Enbridge Energy

 

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 goes right under Lake Michigan. It splits into two pipelines at the Straits, and it was recently announced that the supports that hold the pipeline in place are not in compliance with a 1953 easement agreement with the state.

city of Detroit skyline
James Marvin Phelps / Flicker

Our cities are especially vulnerable to climate change. More than 80% of people in the U.S. live in cities, so things like flooding and heat waves can affect a lot of people at once.

But city planners don’t always have a good handle on the risks their cities face.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State officials in Ohio want to list parts of the Lake Erie shoreline and drinking water intakes in the lake as impaired. They want to do this because of the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria that have been growing on the lake every year. The blooms are fueled by excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus, that get into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

An impaired listing under the Clean Water Act sets pollution limits and outlines what has to happen to clean up that pollution.

Ecologist Ryan Utz and graduate student Catherine Giles check on a recent arrival to their “moth board” at Chatham University. Utz says they could see as many as 1,500 different species on campus over the next several years.
Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front

 

What do you know about moths, besides that they’re attracted to your porch lights? It turns out researchers still have a lot to learn about the many species of moths and the role they play in ecosystems.

Ryan Utz is an assistant professor of water resources at Chatham University. But right now, he only has eyes for moths.

 

“It feels like just a wall of gems because you never know what you’re going to find," he says.

 

Inside one of the more successful recycling programs in the state - Emmet County's Material Recovery Facility.
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Recycling programs in Michigan have run into some problems.

Some, like the University of Michigan's program, cut back on what they take. And businesses are paying some of the highest prices they've seen in recent years to have their leftover material recycled.

The folks at Ventura Manufacturing wrote to us to say they're having a hard time finding a good recycling option for their facility in Zeeland.

Tougher pipeline safety rules could be a tough sell

Aug 23, 2016
Two men walk the scene of a natural gas transmission line explosion in western Pennsylvania, April 29, 2016. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape and burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius.
Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

There's a building boom for pipelines all across the country right now, and that’s created anxiety about new pipelines close to where people live and work. While the federal government is trying to ratchet up safety rules, there are limits on what these new rules can do.

Fleece fibers are released into the environment after washing, but scientists don't know what the effects might be.
user kellyhogaboom / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A team of scientists from the U.S. and Canada are setting sail on Saturday. They’re heading out on a research trip to sample plastic pollution in all five of the Great Lakes.

It's part of a project called EXXpedition Great Lakes: seven research boats led by female scientists who are studying microplastic pollution. Microplastic pollution is made up of plastic particles that are five millimeters in diameter, or smaller.

The Kirtland's warbler, an endangered bird in Michigan.
USFWS

Endangered species are waiting in long lines for the federal government to make a decision.

That’s the conclusion of a study in the journal Biological Conservation on wait times for listing a species under the Endangered Species Act.

Jane Kramer photographing the American lotus.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Plants usually don’t get as much love as cute animals. Sometimes it’s hard to get people fired up about an endangered plant.

But Jane Kramer’s trying to do that anyway.

She’s a fine art photographer. She takes photos of the shadows of rare or threatened plants, and then prints them on paper she makes out of invasive plants like garlic mustard and purple loosestrife.

Researchers found that cardinals might be helping to shield people from West Nile virus in some regions of the country.
USFWS

Robins are considered "super-spreaders" of West Nile virus. They’re especially good at passing the virus to mosquitoes, and mosquitoes, of course, can then pass it to us.

It turns out a different bird species – cardinals – might be shielding people from getting the virus in some parts of the country.

Marc Edwards/Flint Water Study

Remember all that smelly, brownish-orange water that was coming out of people’s taps in Flint?

That was Flint’s water system – the actual pipes – corroding and breaking down, at a rate 15 times faster than they normally would have, says Virginia Tech engineering professor Marc Edwards. 

American views on the existence of evidence of global warming: 2008-2016.
CLOSUP

The first six months of this year were the warmest on record. This week, we heard about a deadly anthrax outbreak in Russia that's thought to be the result of permafrost thawing.

A new survey finds that fewer Americans doubt that climate change is happening, but it continues to be a highly polarizing issue.

NOAA

Now, you can type in your zip code and see the future.

At least, you can see how hot it’s probably going to be.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has updated the tool it calls Climate Explorer. It’s an interactive website loaded with data for each county in the U.S.

David Herring is with NOAA’s Climate Program office. He says you can type in your city or zip code, and see projections: for example, how many days might be hotter than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hunt for methane gas leaks goes high tech

Jul 26, 2016
Carnegie Mellon researcher Aja Ellis monitors air emissions near a Marcellus Shale gas well in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Scientists are trying to find leaky gas wells and pipelines. They want to know how much of this infrastructure is leaking methane - a potent greenhouse gas.

Naomi Zimmerman is checking a computer screen inside a white van that looks like it came straight from an episode of Storm Chasers.

“There’s a blue line with the green line, but you can’t even see it anymore because the fit is spot on. We’re ready to do our calibrations,” she says.

cford3 / Wikipedia

Consumers Energy in April closed seven of its coal-burning units.

DTE Energy plans to shut eight of its coal-burning units by the year 2023.

Mark Barteau is Director of the University of Michigan Energy Institute.  He says eventually, coal is going away because natural gas, wind and solar are more cost-effective - as well as being better for public health and the planet.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Toxic blooms of cyanobacteria have been forming on Lake Erie for several years now.

A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink. Back in 2014, Toledo had to shut down its drinking water supply because of the toxin.

The states around the lake – and Ontario - are working to cut back on phosphorus. It’s a nutrient that runs off from farms and wastewater treatment plants and makes those toxic blooms grow like crazy.

The Great Lakes Commission just launched a new pilot program with Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. It’ll be a trading program for phosphorus, and they’re calling it the Erie P Market.

Proposed salmon cuts upset some fishermen

Jul 19, 2016
Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A proposal to reduce the number of Pacific salmon stocked into Lake Michigan has upset some sport fishermen. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently took a poll of its advisory group.

It found about 40% of those surveyed were against the plan.

Millions of king salmon have been planted in Lake Michigan since the 1960s, as many as seven million fish a year at the peak. That has created a booming sport fishery.

But there is not much food for salmon in the lake these days, so fewer fish are being stocked.

A lead service line removed from a Flint home. Lead service lines were useful because the metal is flexible and can bend - making installation easier.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There are several potential sources of lead in your home plumbing that can get into your drinking water.

  • The service line connecting the water main to your house could be made out of lead
  • The solder in your plumbing could have lead in it
  • And older brass faucets and valves can contain lead

So how do you figure out what you have in your house?

This question has been nagging at me for some time. At our house, we drink the water straight from the tap.

Chart showing greenhouse gas emissions over time.
Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle / University of Michigan

Industries in the U.S. have made some progress cutting greenhouse gas emissions over the past couple of decades. But emissions are up from the transportation sector. This matters because transportation is the nation’s second-largest source of the emissions that are causing climate change.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The U.S. and Canada have added polybrominated diphenyl ethers to their list of "Chemicals of Mutual Concern."

PBDEs are a class of flame retardants in furniture, electronics, car seats and the padding under our carpets. But the toxic chemicals don’t stay put. They leach out and build up in people and in wildlife.

Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor with the International Joint Commission. The IJC advises both countries on Great Lakes issues.

Cale Nordmeyer searches for the endangered Poweshiek skipperling.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of people spent the Fourth of July weekend grilling out or swimming at the beach. But Cale Nordmeyer spent his time trudging through the muck and grasses in a Michigan wetland.

Nordmeyer works for the Minnesota Zoo and he’s on a mission with a small window of time. He’s part of a small team of researchers working to save endangered Poweshiek skipperlings.

user mytvdinner / Flickr

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 48 million Americans get sick from eating contaminated food each year. That's one in six people.

One of the big challenges for companies is tracing those food products and getting them off the shelves quickly.

Kaitlin Wowak is an assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. She’s the lead author of a new study in the Journal of Business Logistics. She says a number of factors determine how difficult it is to recall a food product quickly.

Flint resident Michael Poole says he has enough water in his basement, "I could probably put it in a big ol' barrel and take a shower for days."
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Michael Poole doesn’t buy the line that filtered tap water is safe for him and his neighbors to drink.

“There may be a day when I might be able to trust” the water, he says. “But until then, I’m getting this right here.”

More than 300 union plumbers from cities across Michigan came to Flint this February to volunteer to replace faucets and filters.
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

You know how they say politics makes strange bedfellows? Well, sometimes the environment does, too.

Leaders from the United Steelworkers, the Sierra Club, the Utility Workers Union and the National Wildlife Federation, among others, recently got together for a meeting of the BlueGreen Alliance: blue for labor, green for the environment. After 10 years of this partnership, labor and environmentalists are more friends than enemies.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria form on Lake Erie when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off from farms and sewage treatment plants. A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink.

That happened in Toledo in 2014, when the city had to shut down its drinking water supply.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tries to predict what’s going to happen with the blooms on Lake Erie each year.

Watkins Lake.
Legacy Land Conservancy

We officially have 103 state parks in Michigan now.

The new park is called Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve. It’s 1,122 acres in Jackson and Washtenaw counties.  

The state just closed on its part of the land last week (717 acres). The Michigan Department of Natural Resources used $2.9 million from the Natural Resources Trust Fund to buy the property. Washtenaw County bought the rest of the land, and the park will be managed by both the DNR and the county.

Enbridge Energy says they’ll spend $7 million over the next two years to buy new clean up tools in case there’s a spill along its Line 5 pipeline.   There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Line 5 where it crosses at the Straits of Mackinac. At the
Enbridge Energy

Officials with Enbridge Energy say they’ll spend $7 million over the next two years to buy new clean up tools in case there’s a spill along its Line 5 pipeline.

 

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Line 5 where it crosses at the Straits of Mackinac. At the Straits, the oil and liquid natural gas pipeline splits into two smaller diameter pipelines to make the underwater crossing.

 

Gov. Snyder speaks at a Flint news conference.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It’s been almost six months since the Flint Water Task Force blamed the culture of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the Flint water crisis.

The Task Force said a culture of quote “technical compliance” exists inside the drinking water office.

Its report found that officials were buried in technical rules – thinking less about why the rules existed. In this case, making sure Flint’s water was safe to drink.

Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

50 years ago, officials put Pacific salmon into the Great Lakes to eat an invasive fish called the alewife, and a huge sport fishery was born.

These days, you can still catch both coho and chinook salmon. But people are worried there's not enough food in Lake Michigan for chinook salmon.

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