environment

Michigan Municipal League

Earlier this year, public health officials in St. Clair County began investigating whether environmental factors might be contributing to rare kidney cancers in some kids in the Marine City-China Township area.

Now, the investigation is getting the help of an epidemiologist.

More from the Times Herald of Port Huron:

An investigation into a possible cancer cluster is expected to pick up next month.

A part-time epidemiologist starts Oct. 1.

user nico paix / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court settled a dispute like this back in 2005, after a neighbor had sued another neighbor for walking along their beachfront property.

The court ruled that the right to walk along beachfront property extends up to the ordinary high water mark in Michigan. The high water mark was defined, in-part, this way by the Michigan Supreme Court:

"The point on the bank or shore up to which the presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction or terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristic."

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has chimed in. From the Associated Press:

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that beachcombers can legally walk from the water to the "natural shoreline" along properties bordering Lake Erie.

The Wednesday ruling comes in a case pitting thousands of lakefront property owners against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which establishes public access rules.

In a 7-0 decision, the court reversed an appellate ruling that said property owners' rights extend to the point the shore and water meet on any given day.

The high court also rejected state arguments that public access should extend to a high water mark established in 1985.

Justices define the natural shoreline as "the line at which the water usually stands when free from disturbing causes."

It says its ruling reaffirms decisions dating to 1878 and state law enacted in 1917.

Photo by Lindsey Smith

Grand Rapids, Adrian and Ann Arbor are taking part in a tree study that could help other Michigan cities assess their own urban forests. The goal is to make a tree assessment more accurate and affordable for cities.

Grand Rapids spent tens of thousands of dollars to find more information about the city’s trees. They came away with valuable information like how much greenhouse gases and water runoff the trees absorb. But city owned trees make up only a tiny portion of the overall urban forest in Grand Rapids.

Tyler Stevenson is the city forester. He says they discovered more than half of Grand Rapids’ trees are maples.

“Is that true for the entire community? We don’t know. And it’d be interesting information and it would also help to increase the awareness of the public on how valuable the trees on their property are.”

Federal officials will use the data from the study to enhance existing software. Other communities in Michigan will be able to use that software for free to calculate data about their own trees.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Here in Michigan, we have the world’s largest collection of dead fish. At least, the world’s largest collection that’s based at a university.

There are about 3.5 million fish in this collection. It belongs to the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.

Bill Fink is the director of the Museum of Zoology and Curator of Fishes.

He’s offered to take me on a guided tour. We take the elevator to the basement... where there’s row after row of shelves full of glass jars... full of fish.

“These specimens are from Japan and they were collected in 1920s – we have specimens that are well over a hundred years old now and they look fine.”

Bill Fink says these fish have been collected from all over the world, sometimes at great risk to the scientists. He points out the box of jars from Vietnam.

“They were collecting during war, the Mekong River Survey. They were shot at and captured and escaped and there were lots of adventures.”

Bill Fink is not just the curator here... he also goes out in the field. He says some of the fish themselves are dangerous for the collectors.

“We also have a huge collection of piranhas right here...I’ve been there when people have been bitten but I personally have not been bitten. I’m really careful.”

Fink shows me some amazing fish... like the tiny anglerfish with its appendage that glows in the dark at the bottom of the ocean.

user rkramer62 / Flickr

An invasive insect may wipe out the ash trees at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The emerald ash borer has infested up to 90 percent of the ash trees on the lakeshore's mainland in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. The first case was discovered in June and the tree-killing pest has spread quickly.

Lakeshore officials are considering their options to try to control the ash borer, but things look bleak.

Photo courtesy of the Gerald R Ford International Airport

Airplanes across the country use de-icing fluid, and airports have to figure out how to deal with the run-off from the fluid.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has come up with a $15 million plan to deal with the run-off which contains a substance called glycol. The Grand Rapids airport currently mixes glycol with storm water and dumps it into a tributary, where it breaks down and creates a bacterial slime.

Petty Officer Bill Colclough / U.S. Coast Guard

Officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District say they plan to pump up the electricity at their fish dispersal barrier along the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. The increase is intended to repel smaller fish.

From the U.S. ACOE's statement:

While extensive research and monitoring indicate that small Asian carp currently are not currently within the vicinity of the fish barrier, and all field telemetry research indicates the barrier is highly effective, the Corps is taking this conservative approach to operating the electrical dispersal barrier out of an abundance of caution.

Corps officials say they'll turn up the power "later this fall."

In the statement, Corps officials say they have an aggressive monitoring program and have tracked nearly "1.9 million detections of tagged fish in the barrier area, with no indication of tagged fish having crossed any of the electric barriers in the upstream direction."

Environmental DNA (eDNA) evidence was found above the barrier leading some to wonder whether the fish are establishing themselves in waters close to the Great Lakes.

Officials at the Corps say while DNA testing has some advantages, but "eDNA does not provide conclusive proof of the physical presence of live fish."

MI DNR

It's up to the Michigan State legislature to determine what game is available for hunting in Michigan.

In late 2010, the legislature opened up the possibility of a moose hunt in Michigan.

They charged the Moose Hunting Advisory Council with developing recommendations on whether or not a moose hunt should be conducted. (You can let them know what you think by dropping them a line - moosecomments@michigan.gov).

The council is expected to present their report to the Michigan DNR's Natural Resources Commission next Thursday (September 15). The Associated Press reports that the Moose Hunting Advisory Council will recommend a moose hunt of 10 bull moose.

The NRC will take the recommendation and decide whether a hunt will occur.

But ahead of all that, the Inland Conservation Committee with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians voted to oppose the hunt.

Here's part of a statement from the tribe:

At its Aug. 1 meeting, the committee cited biological concerns of a hunt’s impact on a fragile and uncertain population of 433 moose. The proposed hunt would take 10 bull moose in the fall after the rutting season, according to news accounts. The Department of Natural Resources was officially notified of the decision last week.

The statement says "under the terms of the 2007 Inland Consent Decree, the committee's opposition effectively ends Michigan’s bid for a moose hunt, for now."

A spokeswoman for the DNR said the tribe's position will have no effect on the report going to the Natural Resources Commission next week.

If the NRC votes to establish a moose hunt in Michigan, the question of whether or not the tribe's opposition prohibits a hunt will have to be answered.

Arthur Chapman / Flickr

A few months ago, reports started coming in that an herbicide made by DuPont was hurting and killing trees. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered DuPont to stop selling the herbicide Imprelis. DuPont had suspended sales shortly before that. The herbicide was used by lawn care companies to kill weeds on lawns and golf courses starting last fall.

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture at Michigan State University.

He says Imprelis can cause a range of different injuries to blue spruce, Norway spruce and white pine.

“You might see like in a big white pine, you might see a little bit of top growth doesn’t look quite right, you’ll see the twisting and curling, stunting of the top of the tree, in other cases, yeah we’ve seen the tree killed outright.”

This week, DuPont announced a program to process damage claims from property owners. DuPont declined an interview. But in a statement, the company said property owners with approved claims will receive replacement trees – or cash compensation.

DuPont’s also facing a number of lawsuits, including a class action suit brought by a woman from Allen Park, Michigan.

Fire Officer Randy McKenzie / MIDNR

Want to roast some marshmallows this weekend? 

Natural resource officials in the state have a message for you - "with the romance, comes responsibility":

The Associated Press reports that campfires account for about one in 10 wildfires. From the AP:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says warm summer temperatures and a lack of rain have combined to make the risk of wildfires especially high.

The agency says the highest risk is in the western half of the Upper Peninsula and in the central counties of northern lower Michigan, areas that are especially dry.

There's only a slight chance of rain over the weekend to lessen the danger.

The DNR recommends taking precautions to keep campfires under control and extinguishing them by dousing them with water before leaving.

Opponents of a planned nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are making a final legal appeal to halt initial blasting at the site.

Four organizations have filed a motion in Ingham County Circuit Court for a stay of mining permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality. A judge with the court is considering an appeal of the DEQ's decision to grant the permits.

The Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve say the mine jeopardizes water and air quality in the forestland of western Marquette County. They say extracting minerals at the site could pollute ground and surface waters with sulfuric acid.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals says the project can be carried out while safeguarding the environment.

courtesy of Duke Energy

The Midwest relies so heavily on one source of power that some call us the "coal belt."

Coal is cheap and plentiful, but that’s about to change.

A wave of government regulations is about to hit the electric industry.

Ed Malley, a Vice President at industry consulting firm, TRC Corporation has a name for all the new rules coming down the track: “The train wreck.”

That "train wreck" is the list of environmental regulations expected to be in place within the next few years.

Electric utilities say this will mean the shutting of power plants, leading to higher prices and less peak capacity for hot summer days. Environmentalists say: about time.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Attorneys general in the Great Lakes region want a multi-state campaign to cut an artificial link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds that provides a pathway for invasive species.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the attorneys general invite their counterparts in 27 other states to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for quicker action.

The Corps is studying whether to separate the drainage basins in the Chicago area, where they were joined more than a century ago by construction of a canal. Zebra and quagga mussels have used the waterway to invade states farther south, and the Asian carp is threatening to migrate into the Great Lakes.

The Corps report is due in 2015. The letter demands a faster timetable.

U.S.E.P.A.

The U.S. has suffered from a bad economy for the last three years.

Parts of the Great Lakes have suffered from bad pollution problems for the last several decades.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to put people to work cleaning up pollution in the region.

From an EPA press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work," said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps."

The AP reports that Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the GLRI.

One of the GLRI's main goals is to clean up toxic hot spots known as "Areas of Concern" around the Great Lakes.

These Areas of Concern have been identified for decades, but clean-up efforts have stalled as funding for clean-up has been scarce.

EPA officials say they will award funding for these new clean-up projects by the end of September.

James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

Invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes by the shipping industry have caused enormous economic and ecological damage. Some estimates put the costs of invasive species in the Great Lakes at billions of dollars annually.

Quagga mussels, round gobies, and spiny waterfleas have spread all over the place in the Great Lakes, disrupting the food chain.

The question is, how do you get rid of these critters that can hide in the nooks and crannies of a ship's ballast tanks?

The critters get in when a ship pumps in ballast water in an overseas port. They hitch a ride across the Atlantic or Pacific and get dumped in U.S. waters.

Today the EPA requires ships to "swish and spit" before entering U.S. ports. That means international ships have to flush out their ballast tanks with salt water from the open ocean before coming in.

It's a sanitizing method that several states and environmental groups say is inadequate, and they're pushing the EPA to do more. But nobody knows what kinds of ballast water treatment systems will work AND will be cost-effective to shipping companies.

The Duluth News Tribune has a story today about an effort that is thought to be the first "major-scale test on the Great Lakes" of a ballast water treatment system.

It's being tested on a 1,000 ft. Great Lakes freighter. Freighters that stay in the Great Lakes don't bring the invasive species in, but they can help spread invasives from port to port around the region.

They Tribune reports the researchers treated 1.8 million gallons of ballast water in the ship with lye - a caustic chemical often used as an industrial cleaning agent. Before the ship reached it's destination port, they neutralized the treated water with carbon dioxide before releasing it.

One of the biggest challenges in combating invasive species in ballast tanks, is how best to sanitize such a large amount of water sitting in the complex maze of a ship's hull:

“The good news is that we were successful in delivering the biocide at this huge level for a 1,000-foot laker, then successfully delivered the neutralizer, all while the Indiana Harbor was on the job,” Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park and the instigator behind the effort, told the News Tribune.

The Tribune reports that research into the real-world test is ongoing. Water samples from the ballast tanks will show whether the lye killed organisms "and whether the treated water was then successfully neutralized to prevent environmental harm."

Results of these tests should be available next month, the paper reports.

EPA Region 5

The Michigan Department of Community Health's report on the submerged oil is being called "premature" by the National Wildlife Federation.

In its report, MDCH officials declared that "contact with sediment containing submerged oil will not result in long-term health effects." Some sediments in the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek became contaminated with heavy tar sands oil after the Enbridge pipeline break.

In the Kalamazoo Gazette, National Wildlife Federation Senior Scientist Doug Inkley said the agency should have done more research before making such a statement:

“It’s a premature conclusion based on incomplete results,” Inkley said. “The jury is still out.”

Inkley said his biggest concern about the study is that eight chemicals found in the submerged oil were not included in the conclusion.

A toxicologist at MDCH told the Gazette that some of the chemicals weren't tested because the submerged oil didn't have enough concentrations of the chemicals to warrant testing, and because "some of the chemicals were actually groups of chemicals, some of which had already been individually tested in the study."

Nobody needs me to tell them that this has been a rough decade for Michigan’s economy. The roughest since the Great Depression of the nineteen-thirties.

And, as the stock market plunge indicates, a return to the prosperity we used to take for granted is nowhere in sight.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few bright spots, and one of the brightest has been tourism. A few weeks ago, I spent an hour with George Zimmerman, who runs Travel Michigan the official state tourism promotion agency.

screen grab from YouTube video

What do a Lake Erie watersnake, a bald eagle, and an American alligator have in common?

They've all rebounded from the threat of extinction and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The only place these snakes are found in the world is on the western edge of Lake Erie in Canada and Ohio.

The snakes were listed as threatened in 1999 because of habitat loss and because humans often killed them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the tide has turned for the watersnake. The Service published a rule in the Federal Register today delisting the species. From a USFWS press release:

Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat.

Through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie watersnake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed.

Back in 2005, reporter Rebecca Williams traveled down to the islands in Lake Erie to witness researchers taking their annual snake census - aka "Nerodeo" - "that’s Nerodia, the snake’s scientific name, and rodeo, as in cowboy roundup.":

The snake biologists don’t just look under rocks. They dive into the lake for snakes. They sneak up on piles of snakes and then grab the whole writhing mass.

The snakes bite. The researchers' arms are covered in snakebites. The bites aren't life threatening, but they're really, really bloody. And then it comes to the job at hand. The biologists are going to force the snakes' stomach contents out. They call it "barfing the snakes."

And what were they barfing up? Mostly round gobies - an invasive species. So here is a case where native species are taking a bite out of an invasive species' population.

The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe did an episode on the job of a Lake Erie watersnake researcher in 2006 (the snakes poop, pee, bite, and release a musky smell when they're caught).

You can watch Rowe drop to his knees and get chomped on by a Lake Erie watersnake at about 6:20 in this video:

The snakes are still listed as endangered by the state of Ohio, so killing them is still illegal under state law... no matter how much they bite you.

Library of Congress

The U.S. government has agreed to pay $10.8 million for part of a cleanup at the River Rouge complex in Dearborn.

From the Detroit News:

The Dearborn automaker filed suit in May 2004 against the federal government in U.S. District Court in Detroit, arguing the government should pay a share of the costs of cleaning up the automaker's Rouge manufacturing complex that opened in 1917 stemming from military production from World War I.

Flickr user mdprovost

A Michigan State University scientist is leading a team of researchers to study how lakes, streams and wetlands are connected to their surroundings.

Associate professor of fisheries and wildlife Patricia Soranno is using a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant to examine land use and climate change's effect on freshwater ecosystems.

Andy Dolman/Creative Commons

Tons of trees felled by a spring storm that swept across Calhoun County will be used to help generate power for residents and businesses in Mid-Michigan.
    

The Battle Creek Enquirer reports that a two-story pile of limbs and branches will be fed into the Genesee Power Station in Flint, which uses wood fuel to create electricity.
    

The debris pile has been growing at the Community Compost Center in Marengo Township, about 110 miles west of Detroit.
    

Neil McIntosh / Flickr

Wildlife officials believe a cougar that was killed in Connecticut traveled through Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

This from Interlochen Public Radio's Linda Stephan:

Just months after the federal government declared the cougar extinct in the Eastern United States – a wild cat has been identified in Connecticut.

DNA evidence links the cat to a South Dakota species.

And officials believe this same cat was spotted in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Researchers say they’re pretty confident this very cat was also sighted in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

USACOE

There is new evidence that Asian carp may have slipped past electric barriers in Chicago-area waterways. The barriers are meant to keep the fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The news has launched a new wave of arguments over the threat posed by the invasive species.

The Army Corps of Engineers turned up nine positive tests for Asian carp DNA out of hundreds taken from Chicago-area waterways.

Federal officials say that’s not proof the invasive species is getting closer to Lake Michigan, or that it poses an imminent threat of infesting the Great Lakes.

The state of Michigan is suing the federal government to get the shipping locks shut down as an emergency precaution.

John Sellek is with the Michigan Attorney General’s office. He says there is a growing body of evidence that the threat exists.

“How many more warnings do we need at this point that that impending tragedy is coming? The time for studying is over. It’s time to take action.”

The state is appealing a judge’s refusal to close the Chicago shipping locks while the Army studies ways to permanently ensure Asian carp don’t become a Great Lakes problem.

Rich Mondky / NWS

Much of the state is under excessive heat warnings and air pollution alerts today as the peak of the Midwest heat wave passes over the state. The heat index (a measure of air temperature and relative humidity) has reached 110 in some areas.

According to Jeff Masters at wunderground.com, 22 deaths in the Midwest have been blamed on the heat wave and Detroit is expected to reach 100 degrees for the first time in sixteen years.

One death in Oakland County is being blamed on the heat and power companies are asking customers to cut back on their electricity usage.

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), issued an energy conservation alert today because of high customer demand.

mdprovost ~ Prosper in 2011 / Flickr

Michigan ranks seventh worst in air pollution on a list the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the “Toxic 20.” The NRDC study found almost half of all toxic air pollution comes from coal and oil-fired power plants. Detroit Edison’s Monroe Power Plant ranks fourth among power plant polluters in the country. Ohio took first before Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says Michigan is on its way to less toxic energy usage.

"We’re on sort of the verge of a new era where we’re going to use as much renewables as we possibly can, we’re going to look at efficiency because that provides power to about one tenth the cost of a new coal plant and we’re going to maximize those two efforts," McDiarmid said.

McDiarmid says Michigan’s rank on the “Toxic 20” is an opportunity to work toward less harmful energy use in the future.

The "Toxic 20" are:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa 

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

An inland lake in west Michigan is getting a boost from the federal government to help clean up pollution and restore wildlife habitats.

It’s one of many places along the Great Lakes shoreline where cleanups are needed.

Programs to clean up White Lake, north of Muskegon, have been awarded more than $2 million for restoration. The money will be used to help clean toxins and reestablish habitat for fish and wildlife.

Patty Birkholz, director of the Office of the Great Lakes says damage done by years of pollution from the manufacturing industry is not beyond repair. 

“That’s true, it’s not. But it’s taken a huge investment on the part of the federal government, on the part of the state government, but also a lot of work by the local people.”

Birkholz says Michigan has more “Areas of Concern” near the Great Lakes than any of the other Great Lakes states. She says it’s important for the state to rehabilitate waterways that were damaged by the, quote, ‘sins of our fathers.’

NRC

DTE Energy plans to submit an application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would allow the company to operate the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant through 2045.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The utility’s license to operate Fermi 2 expires in 2025 and the application, if approved, would allow DTE Energy to operate it for an addition 20 years.

Fermi 2 began commercial operation in 1988. The renewal is in addition to the utility’s request to the NRC for a new nuclear power facility located at the Fermi site. DTE filed that application in 2008, but the licenses has not been issued yet.

user andrea_44 / Flickr

When bacteria levels get high, county health departments close the beaches. The latest news of a beach closure is on Lake St. Clair:

A week after the Macomb County Health Department gave the all-clear message to swimmers at Memorial Park Beach in St. Clair Shores, the beach has again been deemed unsafe for swimming.

The department issued a no-swimming advisory today for the beach because of high E. coli levels

Blossom Heath in St. Clair Shores remains under the no-swimming advisory because of its E. coli levels, as it has been since May 26.

County health departments issue the warnings and closures, and the state keeps track of them.

The Michigan BeachGuard System has a map with red flags marking closures and advisories.

Currently, there are 15 advisories or closures at public beaches around the state - that's 15 out of 1,211 public beaches.

NOAA

Media outlets around the state want you to know... IT'S HOT!!

They have several different ways of telling you it's hot.

There are heat advisories, warnings and watches, heat indices, and ozone action days.

But what do all these terms really mean?

Here's a breakdown of the terms you might be reading or hearing about.

www.isleroyalewolf.org

No other wildlife species, it seems, causes such extremes of emotion as the wolf.

Some people want to protect it at any cost.

Others want to shoot the animal on sight.

And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula illegal wolf kills are spiking.

Wildlife officials say they can defuse the situation if they can just get gray wolves removed from the endangered species list.

Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen filed a report with The Environment Report on the controversy in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Allen reported that the return of the gray wolf in the U.P. more than 20 years ago didn't cause concern, but that's changed in the last few years as some hunters are convinced wolves are decimating the white tail deer population.

Here's Allen's report:

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