the environment report

A new threat to Michigan rattlesnakes

Jun 16, 2015
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

When you think about rattlesnakes, you might picture Arizona. Or Texas. Somewhere out in the desert. But one snake’s rattle doesn’t come from the deserts of the Southwest. It’s from the pine forests of Michigan.

In fact, Michigan is a stronghold for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Aerial photo of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine Ontario.
Chuck Szmurlo / Wikimedia Commons

The decision on a nuclear waste storage site near Lake Huron has been kicked down the road a bit.

Flickr / Sarah Craig, Faces of Fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 25,000-30,000 new oil and gas wells were drilled and hydraulically fractured annually in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014.

A feature article in the journal Health Affairs says the body of research on the potential health effects of all this fracking is "slim and inconclusive."

The State of Michigan is weighing whether to open the door to commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes.

Millions of rainbow trout are raised for food by Canadians every year in Lake Huron and promoters of the business say Michigan should follow suit and could even become a world leader in aquaculture.

State officials are trying to figure out what the risks are and the idea is likely to face opposition from sport fishing groups and other conservationists.

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey want to find out where Asian carp eggs will have the most success.

They’re using a model nicknamed FluEgg to predict which rivers in the Great Lakes region are the most suitable for Asian carp to reproduce. The fish are not established here yet, but scientists want to be ready in case they do get in and get comfortable.

Relative sizes of ticks at different life stages.

Time to break out the long pants: tick season is back!

The past couple of years we've had a tick boom along the west side of the state and it's happening again this year.

Rich Keith spends a lot of time with ticks. He’s the director of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory. He and his wife Brenda have been doing tick surveys every year since 1997 for university researchers in Michigan and elsewhere.

Monarch caterpillars can die if they are exposed to milkweed that has been treated with neonicitinoids, a type of insecticide.
Monarch Watch

Monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive, but some plants you buy for your garden could be toxic to them.

There’s been a big drop in the monarch butterfly population. By some estimates, they’ve declined by more than 90 percent over the past 20 years.

Researchers believe these are the only remaining wolves on Isle Royale National Park — a mated pair and their offspring (left).
John Vucetich / Michigan Technological University

The wolf population on Isle Royale has been dropping for some time.

There were nine animals last year. In their latest winter study report, researchers on Isle Royale only spotted the three wolves pictured above on the entire island.

On the Kalamazoo River just downstream from the confluence of Talmadge Creek. Around 1 million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the river in 2010.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Today, the state of Michigan announced a settlement with Enbridge Energy over the largest inland oil spill in American history.

The state’s $75 million consent judgment with Enbridge won’t be coming as a huge cash payment. Most of the money has already gone to, or will be going to river restoration or recreation projects along the Kalamazoo River.

Aerial photo of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine Ontario.
Chuck Szmurlo / Wikimedia Commons

The Bruce Nuclear site sits across Lake Huron from Michigan’s Thumb region.

Ontario Power Generation wants to bury some of its nuclear waste on the site in Kincardine, Ontario. All of the company’s low and intermediate level waste would be buried there forever, far underground.

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.

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.

flickr user The National Guard /

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bureau of Land Management

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

Michigan State University

Spring came early in Michigan three years ago — very early — and fruit crops were later wiped out by frost. That has some researchers in Lansing asking if there's a way to delay the spring bloom in a warm year.

It's no secret what cause a cherry or apple blossom to come out in the spring — warmth. So if you want to slow down that process you just spray cold water on the tree.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Our environment laws in Michigan have become sharply more partisan in the past 14 years.

That statement comes from an analysis by MIRS News in Lansing. Reporter Craig Mauger examined about 200 new laws that the Michigan Legislature enacted from 2000 to 2014. 

He noted several changes.

University of Michigan's Climate Center

Our climate is already changing in the Great Lakes region. And people who manage our cities are finding ways to adapt.

“We’re seeing changes in our precipitation patterns; we’re seeing more extreme precipitation events, " says Beth Gibbons, the director of the University of Michigan’s Climate Center. Her group has released a new online tool for cities in the region. 

The site of the former Velsicol Chemical Corporation in St. Louis is going to take a long time to clean up.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of St. Louis, Michigan would much rather be talked about as the geographic center of the Lower Peninsula.

Instead, there's a lot of focus on the legacy of pollution here.

The story of Velsicol Chemical in St. Louis, Michigan is quite complicated. 

This week, we’ve told you about efforts to clean up the old Velsicol Chemical plant. There’s a threat to the local drinking water supply after the first attempt to clean up the plant failed. Birds still die from DDT, decades after the plant stopped producing it.

But we haven't told you who's paying to fix it.

Velsicol Chemical operated on the banks of the Pine River in St. Louis, Michigan from 1938 to 1978. It was the site of the infamous PBB mixup. The entire plant was buried in place and now it's leaking.
Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force

There are a lot of former industrial sites in Michigan that need to be cleaned up, but the Velsicol Superfund sites in St. Louis, Michigan are unusual in their size and in the amount of nasty chemicals lurking in the ground where people live, work and play.

The company tried to contain the pollution before, but its solution didn’t work. Ask some of the community members about that original plan and they say they could have told you it wasn’t going to work.

An ailing robin fledging in Teri Kniffen's yard in St. Louis, Michigan in June of 2013.  Some of the highest levels of DDT ever recorded in bird livers and brains were found in this neighborhood.
Teri Kniffen

All this week we're bringing you stories about the chemical company responsible for the PBB tragedy in Michigan. Michigan Chemical accidentally contaminated the state’s food supply in the 1970s, but the legacy of that company is still very much with us today.

Michigan Chemical – which later became Velsicol Chemical – made more than just PBB, and it left these toxic chemicals behind in St. Louis, Michigan.

One woman insists something is wrong with the birds

Photo courtesy of Emory University


More than 40 years ago, Michigan’s food supply was contaminated. People’s health is being affected, even now.

All this week, we’re looking at the ripple effects left behind by the company that made that tragic mistake.

In 1973, the Michigan Chemical Corporation shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to a livestock feed plant instead of a nutritional supplement. The chemical is called polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB. It took about a year to discover the accident. 

Randall Schaetzl, MSU

News of a decline might sound surprising since there has been so much excitement and controversy over horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in recent years.

But not many high-volume, horizontal wells were actually drilled since 2010, and the company that led the recent fracking boom has left the state.

That leaves the industry and its watchdogs wondering where new action will come from.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent. Enbridge performs inspections, but won't share what they find.
Credit an Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

We've been working to find an answer to the question, "What's the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?"

It was posed by Justin Cross for our M I Curious project.

One of the first things we discovered was that the company holds all the cards.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Radio's M I Curious is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Justin Cross asked Michigan Radio this question:

What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?  

In August of 2010, crews prepare to remove the broken section of Enbridge's Line 6B pipeline.

Federal, state, and local agencies took part in a mock oil spill Wednesday in northern Michigan along the Indian River.

The emergency drill conjured memories of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill. About a million gallons of crude oil have been cleaned up from that spill. There’s some concern about whether Enbridge has made important internal changes to avoid future pipeline problems.

Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust said one of the reasons Enbridge failed to prevent the pipeline break near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010 is not because the company was completely unaware of corrosion and a cracks in the pipeline.

He says Enbridge inspection teams weren’t sharing information with each other.