the environment report

Kimberly Springer / Michigan Radio

Five years ago, on July 25, 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst, causing the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

One of the rumors you can still hear about the incident is that the company must have dumped a surfactant into the Kalamazoo River to help break up the oil. The chemical is called corexit, and it can be harmful to humans.

Regulators and Enbridge deny corexit was ever used for the Kalamazoo spill. But that hasn’t put the rumor to rest.

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

People in Michigan are naturally concerned about the thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing the state. After all, Michigan suffered through the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.  

And there's one pipeline in particular that people are quite concerned about: Enbridge's Line 5 moves more than 500,000 barrels of oil and other liquid petroleum products (like propane) a day under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

You might’ve heard about cougars being spotted in Michigan. There are also cougars out west and there’s the Florida panther. But what we’re talking about here is something called the eastern cougar.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Especially in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. They burned everything from tires, batteries, and plastic to human and medical waste.

Curtis Gibson is an Air Force veteran. He served in Afghanistan in late 2011.

“I’d see things floating in the air — burned papers — you see them floating through the air so you know you’re taking something in,” Gibson says.

He says he had a medical exam when he came home to Detroit.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

In Afghanistan and Iraq, especially in the early years, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. 

“A burn pit’s just a big hole in the ground. You push dirt up and just have trash there, and light it on fire and walk away,” says Army veteran Eric Mullins.

Mullins and I met up in Campus Martius Park in Detroit, near where he works.

He served in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2008. On his first tour, he was assigned to burn barrels of human waste.

Flickr user St Stev / Flickr

Pity the lowly wood pallet. Nobody thinks about it. But it does so much work.

Most merchandise in supermarkets and big box stores is shipped on wood pallets. There are roughly two billion wood pallets circulating in the U.S.

Flickr / bitznbitez

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the state of Michigan, other states, and industry groups in a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions rules.

The justices ruled the EPA was unreasonable when it refused to consider costs in its initial decision to regulate mercury emissions from power plants.

Read the Supreme Court's ruling in Michigan vs. EPA here.

Sarah Cwiek

When Metro Detroit got hit by an unprecedented rainstorm last August, it unleashed massive flooding — and an estimated ten billion gallons of raw sewage — into the region’s waterways. 

That was an extreme event. But those types of downpours are happening more and more, and for decades Detroit’s aging water system has dealt with sewage overflows.

flickr user Andres Pérez / Flickr

Scientists study chemicals for their potential to cause cancer, but usually they examine them one at a time.

And yet, we’re exposed to mixtures of different chemicals every day.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission

If you ever get a chance to meet a sea lamprey, you won’t forget it.

They look like an eel but they’re actually a fish. They have a suction cup for a face, with hundreds of razor sharp teeth.

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.