Environment & Science

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency hopes to select a cleanup plan by this summer for an old landfill site in Kalamazoo that's full of toxic material.

The Allied site served as a dumping ground for the paper mill industry for decades. There are 1.5 million cubic yards of material at the site laced with polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs. Some neighbors have dubbed it Mount PCB.

sierrafoothillsreport.com

Last month, in the midst of the polar vortex, Gov. Rick Snyder declared an energy emergency in the state as propane supplies dropped.

The shortage continues as Michiganders who rely on propane  for their heat have to worry about getting propane – and when they do, dealing with major price increases.

What's behind the shortage? And what does it mean for the 9 to 10 percent of Michigan homes that use propane for heat?

Listen to the full interview above. 

Lizzy Freed

Very few people are amused with what this winter has brought Michigan.

The Associated Press wrote that the polar vortex (let's be honest, vortices) covered 79% of the Great Lakes in ice. 

It's not a record, but it's well above the long-term average of about 51 percent.

flickr Kate Gardiner

State lawmakers say they’re concerned about the time and expense of plans to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. And some experts say it’s time to plan for the worst.

State invasive species experts say Michigan does not have the luxury of waiting for a final plan to ensure Asian carp don’t infest the Great Lakes and upset the food chain. 

Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist / MorgueFile.com

The farm bill has about $57 billion for conservation.

Director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Todd Ambs says a lot of people don't realize the farm bill is where we find the largest source of conservation money from the federal government.

"That’s because there are so many activities that happen on the land that bring us our food, that if done improperly can have a very adverse impact on the soil and also to surrounding waterways," he says.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy can move forward with plans to dredge thousands of truck loads worth of contaminated sediment from the Kalamazoo River - 135,000 cubic yards to be exact. The cleanup is related to the pipeline company’s 2010 oil spill. 

On Monday night, Comstock Township’s planning commission unanimously approved the company’s plans to dredge. The heavy crude oil has broken down and mixed with the river sediment.

Enbridge was supposed to finish dredging contaminated river sediment a couple of months ago, but it failed to meet the deadline in part because the first set of plans it had in Comstock Township were rejected last summer.

The township said the operation was too close to homes and businesses, among other reasons.

About a dozen residents came to the meeting to raise specific concerns about pollution, smells and noise.

But in the end, the concerns were not enough to prevent the temporary operation in a district zoned for heavy manufacturing.

“I do think that this is the best site of all of the ones that we looked at with a minimum amount of impact,” Township Supervisor Ann Nieuwenhuis said. “And what’s most important is that the river is going to get clean.”

“All of the work will be done under the oversight of the federal and state regulators, and any comments or questions or concerns, we’ll do our best to address those as well," Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said after the vote.

Getting rid of the oiled sediment is key to meeting standards under the federal Clean Water Act.

Enbridge hopes to start work in a month and wrap it up by fall.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers want to know whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is inflating the cost and time it would take to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

Army Corp officials will face questions from legislators Tuesday about a report it released last month.

It says separating the lakes from the Mississippi River would take more than two decades and up to $18 billion to complete.

Many state officials and environmental groups say separating the two watersheds is the best way to prevent Asian carp and other species from moving into the Great Lakes.

Ford Motor Company / Flickr

When we think solar power and solar panels, what comes to mind? 

The sun, of course. So what are the prospects for solar power in areas that tend to be cloudy, snowy, and cold? Places with short days and long nights? Places like Michigan's Upper Peninsula?

Upper Peninsula Second Wave writer Sam Eggleston joins us from Marquette to discuss what might happen when solar power meets the UP.

Listen to the full interview above. 

FirstEnergy

OAK HARBOR, Ohio (AP) - Operators of a northern Ohio nuclear plant that sits along Lake Erie say workers there found a gap within the concrete of a protective wall.

Officials at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo describe the gap as an air pocket and say they don't believe it affected the structural integrity of the shield wall.

The gap was discovered Thursday while the plant was shut down to replace two steam generators.

City of Clyde

A federal judge in Ohio is allowing a cancer lawsuit against the Whirlpool Corporation to go ahead.

After documenting a high incidence of childhood cancer around the company's Clyde, OH plant, several families filed suit, accusing the Benton Harbor company of polluting the air and water. Clyde is about 50 miles from Michigan.

Whirlpool asked that the case be dismissed for lack of proof.

Attorney Chuck Boyk represents the families. He says the ruling will force Whirlpool to reveal what chemicals they use at the plant.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Life could soon get a little harder for backyard farmers.

A law passed in 1981 protects Michigan farmers from nuisance lawsuits. It’s called the Right to Farm Act.  It was created to protect farmers from angry neighbors who were moving out into rural areas from cities.

At the moment, the law also protects people who raise chickens and other animals in their backyards.

Wendy Banka lives in Ann Arbor.  She has seven chickens with orange feathers living in a coop in her backyard.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy has new plans to finish dredging oil from the Kalamazoo River spill in 2010. The spill was the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history. The cleanup has cost the company more than a billion dollars so far.

The roughly 180,000 gallons of crude oil that was left on the river bottom before dredging began isn’t really oil anymore. It's tiny particles of weathered material that’s mixed in with sediment.

Most metal food cans are lined with a chemical called bisphenol-A.
(Photo courtesy of Sun Ladder at Wikimedia Commons)

We’re all regularly exposed to the chemical Bisphenol A or BPA. Companies have taken it out of baby bottles, and many kinds of those hard plastic water bottles no longer have BPA in them.

But it’s still used on paper receipts and to line most food and drink cans.

Dana Dolinoy is a Searle Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“There is mounting evidence that BPA has negative health effects in both animal models and humans,” says Dolinoy.

Mark Brush

Maybe you think this is the best winter ever.  Or maybe you’ve had some choice words for Punxsatawney Phil.

So, just how bad - or how fabulous - is this winter? There’s a scientist in Nebraska who has put a number on it.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Panda bears at the Detroit Zoo?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder tells business leaders that he'd like to see it happen, although he acknowledged Friday that the bears are expensive and hard to obtain. He's been interested since traveling to China on trade missions.

The Detroit News says Snyder repeated many points from his State of the State address during an appearance at the Detroit Regional Chamber. He also repeated his criticism of the federal government for its failure so far to agree to a U.S. Customs plaza at a new bridge linking Detroit and Canada.

MODIS / NASA

The last time I checked, the ice bridge to Isle Royale had not fully formed, but there's an ice bridge now.

Michigan Technological University's Rolf Peterson confirmed it in an e-mail to me last night.

"There's been a good ice bridge for the past 10 days."

Working on the broken oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan
EPA

There are close to 70,000 miles of underground pipelines in Michigan carrying all kinds of materials around the state – things like natural gas, refined petroleum, and crude oil.

And for the most part, we really don’t notice these pipelines. That was true in Michigan until one summer day three and half years ago when this happened:

(Official White House photo)

It’s official. The country will have a farm bill. On Friday, President Obama plans to sign the nearly $1 trillion bill into law on his trip in East Lansing. On today’s show we take a closer look at the farm bill and explore what all this means to Michigan farmers.

Listen to the audio above.

United States Coast Guard

DETROIT (AP) — About 200 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the Detroit River while a U.S. Coast Guard ship was taking on fuel, officials said.

The discharge from the Cutter Mackinaw happened Tuesday afternoon near the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The Coast Guard said the ship's crew secured the source of fuel and conducted initial cleanup operations onboard. Crewmembers also deployed a boom around the fuel to prevent further spread. A contractor is expected to finish cleanup efforts.

"We take our role as environmental stewards seriously, and any accidental discharge of fuel is regrettable," Capt. Eric Johnson, chief of the Coast Guard 9th District Incident Management Branch, said in a statement. "We are already at work mitigating any potential impacts."

The cause of the discharge is under investigation, Johnson said, and the Coast Guard wants to ensure that another spill doesn't happen.

Ice breaking work is keeping Coast Guard crews busy on the Great Lakes, and the Mackinaw was cleared Tuesday to leave for an ice breaking operation.

Brian Murphy

Let's call today Throwback Tuesday, and go way, way back to the 1920s.

That's when Sir Alexander Fleming stumbled on a mold that stopped bacteria from growing in a petri dish. He called it penicillin.

Ever since that huge discovery, people have been looking all over the Earth for more organisms that can fight disease.

Brian Murphy has been searching at the bottom of the Great Lakes.

Farm bill likely to help preserve N. Michigan farms

Feb 4, 2014
Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist / MorgueFile.com

The new farm bill should help farmland preservation efforts in northern Michigan.

The way farmland preservation works is farmers sell the right to develop their land, so it can never be divided up for houses or strip malls. The federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to protect farmland, and that will continue under the new farm bill.

But the federal dollars need to be matched locally, which can be a challenge in a region where land is so valuable.

Carleton College

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Federal officials have put a stop to plans for a wind turbine along Lake Erie in northern Ohio.

The decision comes just weeks after a group of birding enthusiasts threatened to sue the Ohio National Guard over the wind turbine project at the guard's Camp Perry site near Port Clinton.

The American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory say National Guard officials in Washington sent out a letter this past week announcing it was pulling out of the project.

Palisades reactor from ouside
Mark Savage / Entergy Nuclear Operations

The Palisades power plant is proposing a new design that officials hope will help end a recurring problem.

The heat generated by its nuclear reactor is restrained in part by 45 control rods. The rod mechanisms at Palisades have an uncommon design (one of only two plants in the country) and have had a lot more problems than at other plants.

Craig Ritter

In case you’re new in town, three and a half years ago an Enbridge pipeline broke, causing a huge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.

The case of the mystery rocks

A couple of years ago, I met Craig Ritter while doing some reporting on the river cleanup.

He’s your typical, passionate, Michigan out-of-doors type.

He says he was out fishing last summer.

“I started noticing these weird formations that I’d never seen before,” Ritter said.

user: arzarubin / Flickr

SMI Snowmakers of Midland is involved in the snowmaking and the snowmaking design in Sochi, Russia. SMI is working with Skado (a local Russian company) to design and carry out the process.

According to SMI's website, there are several challenges the company is facing at the Rosa Khutor Resort near Sochi:

The snowmaking design and owner objectives were extremely challenging due to the big vertical, marginal temperatures, wide slopes, environmental aspects, energy and logistics. 

morguefile

Oil and gas companies in Michigan could soon get a tax break for better utilizing wells, and the proposed measure is causing a split among environmental groups in the state.

A state House panel held its first hearing Tuesday on a bill meant to encourage companies not to abandon oil and gas wells once they’re no longer profitable. Supporters of the legislation say it is meant to encourage an extraction method that pumps carbon dioxide into older or low-producing wells to get relatively small amounts of oil out.

Courtesy Photo

First up, a Michigan man who’s trying to win millions of dollars with solar power.

He’s trying to put solar panels on as many Michigan homes and businesses as he possibly can.

Prasad Gullapalli’s Novi-based Srinergy wants you to invest in solar panels – for your home, for your business – doesn’t matter. He’s looking for anybody in Michigan to go solar.

He’s making the offer with no upfront costs.

Doc Searls / Creative Commons

An inland lake north of Muskegon is expected to reach a major milestone this year. Officials anticipate White Lake will be removed from a list of the most-polluted places surrounding the Great Lakes this year.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most of the pollution in White Lake was caused by a chemical company that dumped waste into the water.

USFWS Midwest

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan officials say most of the wolves killed in the recent Upper Peninsula hunt probably belonged to packs that have caused problems for people.

Adam Bump of the state Department of Natural Resources tells The Associated Press that 17 of the 23 kills happened in locations within territories of packs with reputations for "conflicts" such as preying repeatedly on livestock.

Bump says those locations typically were within five miles of a farm or other place where conflicts occurred.

user: Dru Bloomfield / Flickr

MSU conducted a study that links productivity to smart phone usage.

Russell Johnson is an assistant professor at Michigan State and conducted the study in collaboration with the University of Florida and the University of Washington.

The study found two big correlations.

First, that the amount of sleep you get is directly related to how much time you spend on your cell phone at night.

If you spend a lot of time on your phone, you'll get less sleep. 

The second big thing has to do with productivity.

Johnson and the other two researchers found that it's harder for people to be focused and engaged at work if they spent a lot of time on their smart phones the night before.

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