Environment & Science

Environment & Science
7:45 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Study finds that an oil spill under Mackinac Straits would be “deathblow” to Northern Michigan

Concerns are growing over a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
Credit James Marvin Phelps

New computer modeling from the University of Michigan shows the possible effects of an oil spill under the Straits of Mackinac. It shows oil would spread widely across Northern Michigan shorelines.

The National Wildlife Federation  says twin pipelines under the Straits are in poor condition and could rupture.

“To have an oil spill of the magnitude that’s potential … with the reach, the scope, and the travel that would occur from such a spill – it would be a deathblow for Great Lakes ecology and economy,” said Andy Buchsbaum, executive director the NWF’s Great Lakes Natural Resources Center.

“Everybody recognizes that that spill would be devastating,” he said. “And I think that this report actually puts a scientific point on how devastating it would be.”

The pipelines are operated by Enbridge, the company responsible for the 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge says the pipelines are operating safely.

Below are videos of U of M's Straits of Mackinac contaminant release scenarios:

The Environment Report
2:55 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Is the hybrid hype dying down?

Data shows that sales are down for hybrids like the Ford C-Max.
Ford Motor Company

The Environment Report, Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

People may talk about wanting to be environmentally friendly but, when it comes to buying new cars, the data show they aren't spending their green on being green.

Car buyers don’t actually end up buying hybrids and electrics even though they say it’s important to them.

"Hybrids and plugins tend to be more expensive," says Sonari Glinton, NPR’s auto reporter. The advance drive market [hybrids, electric vehicles, plugin hybrids] has accounted for 3.6% of the market in the first half of 2014, a decline when compared to 3.8 % in the first half of 2013. Glinton says this market plateau is partially because shoppers are acclimating to higher gas prices. He thinks the other reason is "the novelty of these [hybrid] cars has worn off, so it's not like there's a big new electric car that people are like 'oh I gotta go out and buy that car.' "

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The Environment Report
11:18 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Bass getting fat on invasive fish

A goby in Lake Michigan. Bass are getting bigger gorging on this invasive species.
Joi Ito Flickr

The Environment Report for Thursday, July 10, 2014- A bigger bass

The bass are getting fat.

Lake Michigan was recently recognized as one of the best places in America to fish for bass. The booming fishery is one sign of what might be a major shift of the lake’s food web.

But that change is being driven by an increase in goby, an invasive species. And it could spell trouble for salmon— the most popular sport fish in Lake Michigan.  

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Stateside
3:51 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

The Michigan Department of Community Health chimes in on the state's arsenic issue

Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's "The Environment Report" has just wrapped up a week-long series called Michigan's Silent Poison.

Reporter Rebecca Williams worked in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity and the public radio show Reveal to explore the problem of arsenic in well water.

Williams said Michigan has a serious problem with arsenic in private wells that can lead to major health issues.

Public water supplies have federal limits to regulate arsenic levels in water, however, private wells are not regulated.

The Thumb region in Michigan has the largest problem with high arsenic levels in private wells. Levels are as high as 20 times more than the federal accepted limit for arsenic in public water.

During the series Michigan’s Silent Poison, Williams made efforts to talk with someone from the Michigan Department of Community Health, but no one was made available. After the series aired, the Department said they would make someone available to speak.

Jennifer Gray is a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. She answered some of the questions on Stateside today.

*Listen to full interview above. 

Environment & Science
6:03 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Environmental groups say another Enbridge pipeline could be disaster in waiting

Environment groups fear the possibility of another big oil spill, this time in Lakes Michigan and Huron.
Credit U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

A "who's who" of environmental groups say a 67-year-old pipeline in the straits of Mackinac  could be a serious threat to the Great Lakes.

The pipeline is owned by Enbridge.  

Howard Learner is head of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

"It's an old aging pipeline," says Learner.  "We can't afford to have happen in the Great Lakes what happened with the Enbridge pipeline and the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.  You know, it's already been a couple of years and we are still cleaning it up.  "

In 2010, more than a million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River after an Enbridge pipeline rupture.

Lerner's group, along with 16 other major environmental groups in Michigan, have sent a letter requesting an urgent meeting with Governor Snyder about the pipeline.

Learner says Enbridge may not be maintaining the pipeline properly, including not installing enough supports for the pipeline. 

And he says the company may be sending oil through it under too much pressure, but there's no way to know until the state forces the company to disclose the information.

There's also a question whether state  regulations written more than 60 years ago meet current standards.

*Correction - A previous version of this story said "more than a million barrels of oil spilled." It was more than a million gallons. Story corrected above.

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Environment & Science
4:33 pm
Mon July 7, 2014

Demolished GM plants could get cleaned up next year

Credit Sean_Marshall/ flickr

Three demolished General Motors plants could get state approval for cleanup, starting next year.

The Racer Trust took over all of GM's shut down sites after the company's bankruptcy in 2009. Now the trust is awaiting approval from the Department of Environmental Quality for a remediation plan for the Lansing-area properties.

The goal is to redevelop them for other uses, like industrial parks or housing units.

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Environment & Science
4:00 pm
Mon July 7, 2014

Vacant lots in Flint are becoming urban gardens

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

There are more than 12,000 vacant lots in Flint, and Genesee county is trying to change that.

Edible Flint is a non-profit organization that helps residents turn these vacant lots into urban gardens.

The group offers classes, resources and helping hands to get new gardeners started.

This year the group will host its sixth annual Food Garden Tour.

The tour will provide transportation to 15 gardens around the city that showcase different techniques of local growers.

Deb Hamilton is with Edible Flint.

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Environment & Science
9:57 am
Mon July 7, 2014

Making plans for the future of the Kirtland's warbler in Michigan

Lower Michigan has the largest population of Kirtland’s warblers. The song bird’s habitat covers roughly 19 counties.
Credit Joel Trick / USFWS

The Kirtland’s warbler is starting its migration from Michigan to the Caribbean.

By the time the song birds return to their Michigan breeding grounds next year, the Kirtland’s warbler may no longer be listed as an endangered species.  

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Michigan's Silent Poison
10:16 am
Fri July 4, 2014

What researchers are finding out about low-level exposure to arsenic

New research suggests low levels of arsenic in drinking water may impact your health.
Credit jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

This week, the Environment Report is taking a look at Michigan’s silent poison — arsenic.

Federal standards allow public drinking water supplies to have arsenic levels of up to 10 parts per billion (ppb), but these standards do not apply to private well owners (that's left up to the well owner to determine).

And in counties throughout Michigan, some wells have much higher levels of arsenic than this "maximum contaminant level" set by the EPA.

Higher levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to skin cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer, among others.

But are lower levels of arsenic a threat to human health?

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 5)
8:30 am
Fri July 4, 2014

One congressman has kept us in the dark about the health risks of arsenic

Rep. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho, delayed the U.S. EPA's health assessment on arsenic.
Credit wikimedia commons

Michigan's Silent Poison Part V

Arsenic occurs naturally, and Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

Arsenic was also used in insecticides for many years and it's still being used in some weed killers.

David Heath is a senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, and he investigated why a health assessment on arsenic from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been delayed.

Why does this health assessment matter?

Heath said when the EPA first wants to determine how dangerous a toxic chemical is, they first do the science. These assessments can take a long time and the arsenic assessment has been going on for more than a decade.

"It's not until they have done the science to figure out exactly how dangerous a chemical is that they can really take action on it," Heath said. "So it really does come down to 'this is how they protect your health.'"

A single member of Congress, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was able to intentionally delay the EPA's health assessment for years.

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Environment & Science
5:01 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

State approves oil well permit for Scio Township

An oil well.
Credit morguefile

The state has approved a permit for a controversial exploratory oil well in Scio Township close to Ann Arbor.

The approval came despite fierce opposition from residents and Scio Township's board of trustees.

Adam Wygant is with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

He says because of the public comments, the state took two months to study the application - much longer than the 24 days it normally takes to approve a permit for an exploratory oil well.

Wygant says oil wells tend to be less disruptive than people fear, and often, they get used to them.

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Environment & Science
10:45 am
Thu July 3, 2014

What should we do about the arsenic in our food? Experts say vary your diet, research ongoing

A rice farm in California. These test plots are being used by rice farmers to find ways to limit the amount of arsenic getting into rice.
FDA

All this week, we’ve been talking about the potential for elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater in Michigan.

The upshot of our reports:

  1. Arsenic levels in Michigan’s groundwater can be high.
  2. Arsenic is bad for you.
  3. Scientists are finding health effects at lower exposure levels.
  4. If you’re on a well, test it for arsenic.
  5. If the levels are high, you should consider doing something about it.

This one chart published by the Center for Public Integrity shows you why (the blue bar is arsenic):

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 4)
8:30 am
Thu July 3, 2014

These places in Michigan are still working on getting arsenic out of their drinking water

Sue Cherry, the director of Maple Tree Montessori Academy, said the school installed a reverse osmosis system to take out the arsenic. However, that system didn't meet EPA standards. The kids are told not to drink the water from the sinks.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

There’s no way to tell if arsenic is in your water without testing it. Arsenic has no taste and no smell.

Certain parts of Michigan have higher than average levels of arsenic in groundwater. That’s especially true in the Thumb region and a few other counties in southeast Michigan. And that can be a problem if you’re on a private well.

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Environment & Science
5:31 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Appeals court says no drilling in Pigeon River forest

Pigeon River State Forest
Credit michigan.gov

The Michigan Court of Appeals says state regulators were correct to deny a drilling permit to developers who want to put oil wells on private land surrounded by a state forest.

The developers said the state should either grant the permit, or compensate them for their lost investment. They want to put 11 wells on private property surrounded by the Pigeon River Country State Forest in northern lower Michigan. The state Department of Environmental Quality said the wells were either in designated no-drill zones, or were too close to water.

“The takeaway from this decision is that you can’t drill an oil well just any old place in the state of Michigan,” said DEQ spokesman Brad Wurful. “There are some areas that are off limits.”

And the decision says since that was clear up front, the developers don’t get a payback from the state.

“What the court said was, everybody knew this beforehand going into this and it was clear,” Wurful said. “Nobody got surprised here. They simply wanted to do something that was not allowed and the court upheld that. We’re pretty pleased with the decision, obviously.”

The developers can file a new permit request with plans to use different technology, like directional drilling. They can also take their case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Environment & Science
10:33 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Politics, profits delay action on arsenic in drinking water

Wendy Brennan, center, outside her home with husband Peter, daughter Caitlyn and granddaughter Madelyn Begin.
Amy Temple The Center for Public Integrity

Arsenic is nearly synonymous with poison. But most people don't realize that they consume small amounts of it in the food they eat and the water they drink.

Recent research suggests even small levels of arsenic may be harmful. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been prepared to say since 2008 that arsenic is 17 times more toxic as a carcinogen than the agency now reports.

Women are especially vulnerable. EPA scientists have concluded that if 100,000 women consumed the legal limit of arsenic each day, 730 of them eventually would get lung or bladder cancer.

The EPA, however, hasn’t been able to make its findings official, an action that could trigger stricter drinking water standards. The roadblock: a single paragraph inserted into a committee report by a member of Congress, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 3)
8:30 am
Wed July 2, 2014

There's arsenic in Michigan's well water, but not a lot of people are talking about it

Drilling a water well in Michigan.
Bushen Well Drilling. Facebook

Michigan's Silent Poison Part III

Parts of southeast Michigan – especially in the Thumb – have higher than average levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic can cause cancer. It’s been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer, and other serious health effects.

If you’re on city water, there’s a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, it’s up to you to find out whether there’s too much arsenic in your water.

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Stateside
5:14 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

The polar vortex is over, but the "mosquito vortex" is here

A female mosquito.
Credit Wikipedia

We wrestled with the polar vortex all winter long. Now it looks like we could be wrestling with a mosquito vortex all summer long.

Ned Walker is a professor of entomology, microbiology, and molecular genetics at Michigan State University.

Walker anticipates a bad mosquito season this summer. Right now in lower Michigan, for a variety of ecological factors, we have three varieties of mosquitoes flying around at the same time.

The first species is the spring mosquito, a consequence of the polar vortex. They live in woodland pools that were formed by melted snow and spring rains.

“Our mosquitos are cold-hardy; they are used to the northern conditions,” Walker says.

The second species is the flood plain mosquito, which hatches after heavy rainfall in the spring.

The third is the summer flood water mosquito. Their larvae live in places that stay wet from a half-inch of rain or more after seven to 10 days.

Walker says there are about 60 different types of mosquitos in Michigan. 

*Listen to full interview above.

Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 2)
8:00 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Michigan’s arsenic problem is among the worst in the nation. Here’s why that matters.

An arsenic testing kit can help private well owners know the arsenic levels in their drinking water. Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

If you’re on city water, your drinking water has to comply with a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, the federal and state governments do not limit the amount of arsenic in your well.

It’s up to you to test your well and decide whether to treat it.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rock, and it can get into groundwater.  Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

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Stateside
5:16 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Interview: High levels of arsenic could be in your well water

Arsenic is a deadly poison, and there are people in Michigan getting arsenic at levels high above federal standards every time they drink the water coming from their taps.

Michigan Radio's "The Environment Report" is presenting a five-part series this week called "Michigan's Silent Poison," in partnership with The Center for Public Integrity and the public radio show "Reveal."

The Environment Report’s Rebecca Williams spoke on Stateside today, along with David Heath from the Center for Public Integrity.

“No organ system goes untouched by arsenic,” Williams said.

Extremely high doses of arsenic can kill you. Smaller doses have been linked to lung, bladder, skin, prostate, and liver cancers. You can also get arsenic poisoning with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, gastrointestinal pains, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Arsenic can be found in rice, apple juice, beer and wine, and drinking water. The levels are exceptionally high in private wells at people's homes, mostly in the thumb region of Michigan.

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Michigan's Silent Poison
9:00 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Here's how to test and treat your drinking water well for arsenic

Sampling done from 1983 through 2003 shows where arsenic levels in groundwater are the highest in Michigan. Arsenic levels are in micrograms per liter.
Credit Michigan DEQ

In some parts of the U.S., arsenic in the groundwater is just a natural part of the geology. Michigan is one of several states where elevated levels of arsenic in ground water can be found.

This map shows the counties where these elevated levels have been found, but experts caution, elevated arsenic levels in well water can be found just about anywhere in Michigan:

There was a big push to educate people about the dangers of arsenic poisoning around a decade ago, but in some places in Michigan, people still don't know much about it.

And in some other cases, people know about it, but choose to ignore it, for one reason or another.

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