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.

David Schwab looked at 840 simulated spill scenarios. This map shows the probabilities of where oil might go after a spill in the Straits of Mackinac.
From the UM Water Center report

Enbridge Energy has maintained that their twin oil and natural gas liquid pipelines under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac are safe.

But what if one of them did break open? Where might the oil go?

Today, the University of Michigan’s Water Center released new computer simulations to help answer that question.

David Schwab is a hydrodynamics expert with the Water Center.

“I don’t know any place where the currents are as strong, and change direction as quickly, and as frequently as in the Straits of Mackinac,” Schwab said.

Flickr user USFWSmidwest / Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

White-nose syndrome is a deadly disease caused by a fungus. It’s killing bats in 27 states including Michigan, and five Canadian provinces.

It was first discovered in North America around a decade ago. Researchers think it came over from Europe, possibly on the shoes of a tourist or caver.

Enbridge Energy's Line 5 oil and liquid natural gas pipelines runs under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 goes right under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

At the Straits, it splits into two pipelines. Both pipelines are 63 years old (they were installed in 1953).

Right now, we don’t have all the information about the condition of those pipelines. As we’ve reported many times, Enbridge holds all the cards. The company has shared some information with the public, but not a lot.

Kate Langwig and Joseph Hoyt collecting samples from a cave in northwest Wisconsin.
Jennifer Redel

White-nose syndrome is killing millions of bats in 27 states and five Canadian provinces. It’s a disease caused by a fungus.

Five of Michigan’s nine bat species can get the disease. The bats that hibernate underground are the ones at risk. And the northern long-eared bat is getting hit especially hard.

Researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz are studying bats in China that appear to be resistant to the fungus. 

Flickr user tmray02/Flickr

How do you decide if your milk is fresh enough to drink? You might be one of the many Americans who relies on sell-by dates to determine when to throw it out. But it turns out we could be dumping perfectly good milk. 

A physics professor thinks he’s hit on a better way to tell if food is fresh. And he’s taking it to market.

A worker holds a lead service line removed from a home in Flint.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In Flint, there is no shortage of testing going on.

Right now, the state, the EPA, and outside researchers are testing all kinds of water samples collected throughout the city.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Flint on-scene coordinator Mark Durno says all parties will get together in a few weeks to go over the data they've collected.

USEPA

Federal experts are helping the state investigate rashes in Flint. The federal team is with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and they're doing what's called an ACE investigation (Assessment of Chemical Exposure).

The ACE team arrived in the city last week. It’s looking into possible connections between skin problems and the water in Flint.

It’s something lots of people have been wondering about.

MDEQ

The St. Clair River is on a list of toxic hot spots in Michigan. They’re called Areas of Concern.

The river is on this list because of a long history of industrial pollution. But people have been working to clean it up.

In order to take the river off the list, there are a number of problems that have to be fixed.

One of these is beach closings. Those can happen when untreated sewage gets into the river during storms. But officials say things are getting much better on that front.

Mark Durno / EPA

There’s all kinds of testing going on in Flint to try to figure out what’s happening in the drinking water system. The state and the Environmental Protection Agency are each doing different kinds of tests.

The EPA is about to launch a new kind of test. It’s called a pipe rig.

The hidden costs of pollution

Feb 25, 2016
markbwavy / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

We often hear about the economic costs of environmental regulation on the energy industry.

But there’s a flip side to that equation — the price society pays for pollution.  One scientist has added up those costs. And she found they’re going down.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you’ve never had norovirus, you’re a very lucky person. It’s highly contagious and can knock you down.

“Either diarrhea or vomiting. Some people also have both at the same time, which is obviously the most unpleasant of all the outcomes,” says Christiane Wobus, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Medical School who studies norovirus.

Roughly 150 students got sick with the virus on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus last week.

If you’re a scientist, this outbreak is an opportunity.

Bert Cregg, MSU

You might’ve noticed there’s something strange going on with the spruce trees in your neighborhood.

It’s called spruce decline and it’s mostly affecting Colorado blue spruce.

Spruce decline is pretty much what it sounds like – the lower branches on the tree start turning brown and dying.

U.S. Forest Service

The Pine River is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Lower Michigan and one of the most popular. But its popularity created a problem the U.S. Forest Service wants to fix.

The project would mean the end of a sandy bank, about 160 feet high, that attracts crowds of paddlers.

The issue pits people’s enjoyment of the river against the river’s health and even public safety.

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.

photo of a monarch butterfly
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.

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