Environment & Science

The Environment Report
9:39 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Green goo growing in Lake Erie is not what you think it is

Western Lake Erie turns green from cyanobacteria blooms.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The Environment Report for Thursday, August 28, 2014- Experts debate proper terminology for Lake Erie's green slime
 

Lately, that green slime in the lake has been all over the news after it shut down Toledo’s water supply.

Journalists, city and government officials have been calling that green slime  “blue-green algae”, “toxic algae” or “toxic algal blooms.”

Well, turns out that’s not exactly right.

“That’s just maddening,” said James Bull, a professor of biology and environmental science. He works at Wayne County Community College and Macomb Community College.

He says it’s not accurate to call the green slime that shut down Toledo’s water system “a toxic algal bloom.” 

He wrote to Michigan Radio because we were some of the people using the wrong term.

“It’s wrong because even though these organisms superficially look like algae, I think we ought to understand that these really are a kind of bacteria,” Bull said.

He says scientists used to call this stuff “blue-green algae.” Now they call it “cyanobacteria”. He says calling cyanobacteria "algae" is like calling a dolphin a fish.

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Environment & Science
8:27 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Toxic bacteria bloom is back, closing Pelee Island's beaches

Some of the toxic bacteria that got into Toledo's drinking supply is now hitting Pelee Island.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The same type of toxic bacteria bloom that threatened Toledo's water is now affecting a small 

Canadian Island on the western end of Lake Erie.

Health officials on Pelee Island have closed the beaches and are warning people not to drink the water.

This is crummy timing, since the Labor Day weekend is usually good business for the island's tourist economy.

Rick Masse is the mayor.

"It's not a really good advertising for our community,” he says.

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Stateside
6:24 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Livingston County forest added to global network

Map of all forest plots in Smithsonian network
Credit Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute / www.forestgeo.si.edu

It might just be a 57-acre stand of trees in Livingston County, but it's been added to a global network with a distinguished name: “The Smithsonian Institution’s Forest Global Earth Observatory.”

The Livingston County plot is part of the University of Michigan’s Edwin S. George Preserve.

Christopher Dick is the director of the preserve. He said the Smithsonian Global Network started in Panama in 1982, when researchers were interested in learning more about the numerous tree species packed in small areas of rain forests, so they began to protect large-scale forest inventory plots around the world.

Dick said what makes this stand in Livingston County important is that researchers from the University of Michigan have been researching these trees intensively since the 1930s.

Dick said what this means for researchers is that they now have a standardized way of comparing data from forests around the world. They are currently studying the trees to see what is happening to forests as a result of increased atmospheric carbon.

What they expect to see is that a lot of forests, whether tropical or temperate, will experience increased production of wood and increased growth rates.

*Listen to the full interview with Christopher Dick above. 

Stateside
6:17 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Searching for the "cosmic cocktail" in our universe

Katherine Freese, author of The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter
Credit www-personal.umich.edu/~ktfreese / www-personal.umich.edu/~ktfreese

What is the universe made of?

It’s a fundamental question that has been asked numerous times over the years, and Katherine Freese is devoting her scientific career to answering it.

Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan. Her book is called “The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter.”

Freese the answer is surprising ,and finding it begins by starting with what we do know.

“Your body, the air, the walls, let’s even throw in the stars and planets. All of that is made of atoms, but all of that only adds up to about 5% of the universe,” Freese said.

Freese said the quest to find the answer dates back to a Swiss astronomer in the 1930s who found something was pulling at the universe, causing it to expand. He called it dark matter.

So what does dark matter mean?

“It means that it does not shine,” Freese said. “It is invisible to our eyes and our ordinary telescopes."

Freese said scientists believe they are close to detecting it, and believe it is made of some new particle – entirely different from neutrons, protons, and everything we have learned in science class.

Freese said her book served two purposes: to talk about the hunt for dark matter, and to talk about her experience as a scientist.

*Listen to the full interview with Katherine Freese above. 

–Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
3:28 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Lawmakers vote to allow wolf hunts in UP

A wolf on Isle Royale. The wolves on this island are protected from any kind of hunt.
IsleRoyaleWolf.org

Wolf hunts in the Upper Peninsula will be able to continue under a new law passed by the state House today. Groups that oppose wolf hunting say state lawmakers are trying to thwart the will of voters.

To the chants of “Let us vote! It’s our right!” anti-wolf hunting groups rallied outside the state Capitol before the House took up the bill.

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Environment & Science
10:45 am
Wed August 27, 2014

Residents of Pelee Island in Lake Erie warned not to drink or bathe in their water

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Credit Richard Hsu / Flickr

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Residents of a small Canadian island are being warned not to drink their well water because of potentially toxic bacteria in Lake Erie.

Cyanobacteria blooms causing the warning are the same stuff that contaminated the drinking water of about 400,000 people in the Toledo area earlier this month.

Some 300 people who live on Canada's Pelee Island year-round are also being told not to bathe or cook with water from their private wells that draw water from the lake.

The warning from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in Ontario also says residents and visitors to the island shouldn't swim in the lake.

The island about 50 miles east of Toledo is situated along the U.S.-Canadian border in Lake Erie.

Stateside
5:12 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

The cold winter helped bring in a big apple crop in Michigan

Credit dailyinvention / Creative Commons

While we were begging for winter to end, the Michigan Apple Committee was happy for the cold temperatures.

As a result, the 2014 Michigan apple crop is expected to be 28.74 million bushels. That’s about 435 million apple pies.

Diane Smith, executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said that apple trees like the cold winter. The past lengthy winter allowed for the trees to stay dormant, and not wake too early before the spring.

“The apples look beautiful, there aren't any issues, and everything’s coming along the right way,” Said Smith.

*Listen to the full interview with Diane Smith above. 

The Environment Report
12:59 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Debate ongoing over fish farming in the Great Lakes

Harietta Hills Trout Farms co-owner Dan Vogler is in favor of fish farming in the Great Lakes.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Environment Report for Tuesday, August 26, 2014- Fish Farms in the Great Lakes?

Michigan took a big step forward this summer in the business of fish farming. The state issued a permit to expand the Grayling Fish Hatchery more than tenfold.The hatchery raises trout for restaurants and grocery stores.

The expansion comes as interest in fish farming is growing nationwide and there is now talk of going offshore into the open waters of the Great Lakes.

The Grayling Fish Hatchery could soon be the largest aquaculture operation in Michigan by far.

Dan Vogler is one of the owners of Harrietta Hills Trout Farm based near Cadillac. He hopes the expansion is a sign of a growing fish-producing industry in Michigan.

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Stateside
12:01 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Michigan might take radioactive sludge after other states refused

Credit Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

Michigan officials might allow up to 36 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Pennsylvania into a landfill in Belleville after other states have refused to accept it.

The technical term for this sludge is "technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive materials," or TENORM. The waste comes from oil and gas drilling.

Keith Matheny’s article in the Detroit Free Press prompted action by Governor Snyder, who announced he will convene a panel to look at the situation.

Matheny said in another article that EQ, a USEcology company, announced yesterday that they have decided to voluntarily stop taking oil and gas related waste while this panel makes its decision.

State Representative Dian Slavens, D-Canton, plans to introduce a House bill to ban importing radioactive waste into Michigan. And State Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he will do the same in the Senate.

*Listen to the full interview with Keith Matheny above.

Environment & Science
12:14 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Protesters lock themselves to oil pipeline truck

A section of new pipeline for Enbridge's line 6B.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

OXFORD, Mich. (AP) - A group that opposes expanding an underground oil pipeline in Michigan says two of its members are in custody after locking themselves to a truck belonging to a company involved with the project.

The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands says the men used bicycle U-locks on Monday to attach themselves by the neck to a truck at a Precision Pipeline storage yard in the Oakland County village of Oxford.

Spokesman Jake McGraw says firefighters cut the men loose after about 2 1/2 hours. He says sheriff's deputies were taking the protesters to jail.

Precision Pipeline is the primary contractor for expansion of the line owned by the Canadian company Enbridge Inc.

A section of the line ruptured in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The Environment Report
11:20 am
Thu August 21, 2014

Critics say new Ohio law isn't enough to protect Lake Erie from fertilizer runoff

Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Environment Report for Thursday, August 21, 2014 — Farmers and new Ohio phosphorus law

The recent Toledo water crisis has farmers in Michigan and Ohio on the defensive. They’re pointing to a number of voluntary efforts they’re making to reduce phosphorus runoff to Lake Erie. That runoff is the main food source for the blooms of a kind of cyanobacteria that release a toxin that led to the water shutdown. But farm groups and environmentalists say a new state law in Ohio that will certify the use of fertilizers doesn't go far enough or happen fast enough. 

"Basically, the new law will require that all farmers and certified crop advisors who spread chemical fertilizer on fields go through a certification process where they will learn how to spread the fertilizer in the right place, at the right rate, at the right time of year," says Karen Schaefer, an Ohio reporter who is covering this issue. "And the problem with it is: right now it does not include manure and the law does not go into effect until 2017."

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Environment & Science
8:22 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Report: Toxic algae just one way climate shifts are changing the American outdoors

A cyanobacterial bloom at Grand Lake St. Mary's, Ohio
Credit EPA

An environmental group’s report says climate change is already affecting how Americans experience the outdoors.

The National Wildlife Federation’s report “Ticked Off: America’s outdoor experience and climate change” cites this summer’s toxic algal blooms in Western Lake Erie as a prime example of the phenomenon.

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The Environment Report
12:54 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Study finds food allergies are more common in inner-city children

A Johns Hopkins researcher found that inner city children are more likely to have food allergies — especially those related to milk and eggs.

A new study finds inner-city kids might have a higher than normal risk of developing food allergies.

Researchers studied more than 500 kids from birth through age 5, in Boston, Baltimore, New York City, and St. Louis.

Dr. Robert Wood is a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. He says normal food allergy rates are around 5-6%. But that rate went up when they looked at kids in the inner city.

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The Environment Report
11:46 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Dioxin cleanup downstream from Dow Chemical to enter next stage

Dow Chemical corporate headquarters in Midland, Michigan.
User mgreason wikimedia commons

Listen to today's Environment Report about the Dow dioxin cleanup.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a plan for cleaning up soil contaminated by dioxins along the Tittabawasee River floodplain. The floodplain extends along 21 miles of the river below the Dow Chemical plant in Midland.

The EPA says the dioxins, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects, came from waste disposal, emissions and incineration from the plant.

The EPA has been directing Dow to do temporary cleanups around people’s homes whenever the river floods.

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Environment & Science
10:57 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Toledo Mayor compares water crisis to a terrorist attack

Pea-green bacteria growing in Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Earlier this month, from August 2 to August 4, people living in Toledo were suddenly without water. Pea-green bacteria growing in Lake Erie had released a toxin that got into the city's water supply.

The Mayor of Toledo, Michael Collins, compared what happened in his city to 9/11.

From Tom Troy of the Toledo Blade:

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Environment & Science
12:32 pm
Mon August 18, 2014

$20M partnership formed to study coastal estuaries

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maine.
NOAA

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The University of Michigan Water Center is forming a five-year partnership with a federal agency to oversee scientific research dealing with ecologically sensitive coastal areas.

Officials said Monday the center has been awarded a $20 million contract to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the program.

It supports studies of how land use, pollution, habitat degradation and climate change affect estuary areas, which are brackish places where rivers meet the oceans or large lakes such as the Great Lakes. They host an abundance of plant and animal life and help filter pollutants. They also shield coastal areas from storms and prevent erosion.

University of Michigan scientist Don Scavia says research under the program should help policymakers protect and restore estuaries.

Environment & Science
10:50 am
Fri August 15, 2014

Officials say most of Michigan's drinking water safe from toxin that hit Toledo

A bloom of cyanobacteria on Honey Creek in Ohio. It looks a lot like algae, but it's really a bacteria.
Jeff Reutter Ohio State University

Michigan environmental officials say most of the state’s drinking water is safe from the sort of contamination that forced the city of Toledo to issue a don’t-drink emergency order.

Tests determined water from Lake Erie was contaminated with microsystin toxin produced by a type of cyanobacteria. The bacteria looks a lot like pea-green algae growing in the water.

At high-enough levels, the toxin can cause health issues such as nervous system or liver damage.

Steve Busch is a state water specialist. He says about 34,000 people in southeast Michigan lost access to safe drinking water because they get it through the Toledo system, but he says many more could be effected by a more widespread crisis.

“We have about 100,000 people that are relying on drinking water from Lake Erie as a source itself.”

Busch says other Great Lakes are deeper and cleaner, and not as susceptible to problems created by the bacteria.

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Stateside
6:44 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

Why are we not taking climate change seriously?

The flooding event in Detroit fits the global warming pattern, according to reports such as National Climate Assessment.
Credit Michigan Emergency Management & Homeland Security / Flickr

Climate scientists have issued a steady drumbeat of warnings and data pointing to profound changes that have already begun because of climate change.

Yet a survey from the United Kingdom finds that when it comes to climate denial, the United States leads the world. Only 54% of Americans agree that human activity is largely causing the climate change we're currently seeing.

Why is the U.S. the world leader in climate denial? And how can scientists and policymakers convert the "deniers?"

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Environment & Science
1:45 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

Months of work ahead after Bay City water main break

Saginaw River, Bay City
Credit User: Juan N Only / Flickr

BAY CITY, Mich. - Bay City crews are expected work over the course of several months on repairs at the site of a water main break that drained up to 20 million gallons of water.

The Bay City Times reports crews worked Wednesday on one water main and discussed plans to repair the break in another main that prompted water-use restrictions for days after officials became aware of the problem Saturday.

After reviewing blueprints, officials determined an 8-inch water main broke. Officials earlier said it was a 24-inch main. The water made its way into an abandoned, 36-inch storm drain that discharges into the Saginaw River.

Detailed plans for a fix are pending. Water from Bay City serves the city of 35,000 and much of the surrounding county.

The Environment Report
11:23 am
Thu August 14, 2014

Flying unmanned helicopters for science in Michigan

Benjamin Heumann operates the helicopter at Wilderness State Park.
Central Michigan University / Steve Jessmore

You might’ve heard that Amazon is hoping to one day deliver packages to your door by little unmanned helicopters.

Now, scientists are getting into the act, too.

“This is our unmanned aerial vehicle; an electronically powered helicopter,” Benjamin Heumann says as he unpacks a 6-foot helicopter. We’re in the middle of a rare wetland called a prairie fen near Chelsea. Heumann directs the Center for Geographic Information Science at Central Michigan University.

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