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Environment & Science

Screen grab UWSSEC / YouTube

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope – it’s a meteor, or a fireball, or space junk...

A bright, unidentified object flying over Lake Michigan last night caught onlookers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan saying just that.

But what was it?

Bruce Power / Ontario Power Generation

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is determined it’s going to build an underground storage bunker for nuclear waste at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant in Kincardine, Ontario.

That location is less than a mile from Lake Huron.

Michigan’s congressional delegation has objected to the project every step of the way. Now, with a New Year and a new administration in the White House, come fresh efforts.

Image used with permission from Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

A new study found fluorinated chemicals in one third of the fast food packages researchers tested. The chemicals keep oil and grease from leaking through.

The researchers found that out of 407 food packages tested, 46% of food contact papers and 20% of paperboard contained fluorinated chemicals.

Scientists have found this class of chemicals doesn't break down in the environment, and some kinds of fluorinated chemicals are linked to health problems.

EPA

There’s been a lot going on at the Environmental Protection Agency lately.

First, the Trump administration barred anyone at the EPA from communicating with the public. Then, a White House official announced that EPA research could be subject to review by the administration.

The Trump administration has sent strong signals that it’s going to be friendly to industry.

Grass carp
USGS

There are grass carp in three of the Great Lakes, but it’s not too late to do something about it.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new risk assessment on this type of Asian carp by the United States and Canada.

Courtesy of Michael Bernitsas

The Next Idea

Earth’s water is a natural medium for collecting energy, taking in about 97% of what we receive from the sun. After reflection and radiation, water stores over 2 million TWh (terawatt hours) per year. The world’s annual energy consumption is about 150,000 TWh. Clearly, we could benefit from using water for power.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor is joining a "guerrilla archiving" movement.

Librarians, web developers and other volunteers are working fast to save scientific data from federal agency websites.

It’s called Ann Arbor Data Rescue, and it’s part of a larger project that’s springing up around the U.S. and Canada.

They’re doing this in case the Trump Administration changes or removes data.

USGS

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Scientists say grass carp have invaded three of the Great Lakes and pose a significant environmental risk. But they say there's still time to prevent them from becoming established.

Grass carp are among four Asian carp species threatening to reach the lakes, where they could upend ecological systems and compete with native fish for food.

A U.S.-Canadian assessment released Friday says grass carp have been found in Lakes Erie, Michigan and Ontario. At least some are reproducing, although most are believed to be sterile.

Roger Chafee in May 1965 at a console in NASA’s Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Houston during a Gemini simulation.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum and City Archives, Roger B. Chaffee Collection

Today marks 50 years since NASA faced one of the organization's biggest setbacks. On Jan. 27, 1967, a fire during a preflight test for Apollo 1 killed the three astronauts on board.

One of the crew members was Grand Rapids native Roger B. Chaffee.

Glen Swanson, a former NASA historian and current visiting instructor in the Department of Physics at Grand Valley State University, joined Stateside to look back at Chaffee's life and death, and how the Apollo 1 disaster changed NASA.

The sites of the Velsicol Superfund sites in St. Louis Michigan.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

 

There are a lot of former industrial sites in Michigan that need to be cleaned up. The pollution left behind in one town in the middle of Michigan is particularly bad. The Velsicol Chemical Company (known as Michigan Chemical up until 1976) produced a lot of toxic chemicals in St. Louis, Michigan.

 

Small Mich. city hopes water problems will soon be solved

Jan 24, 2017
Steve Depolo / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Rust-colored water that smells like rotten eggs has been coming out of some faucets in the city of Leslie since 2013, according to Leslie city manager Aaron Desentz.

And the city has delivered bottled water for three years to about 50 of its 750 water customers, at a cost of about $9,000, while it has searched for a solution to the problem.

"People do rely on the bottled water, typically for their drinking needs, if they're having these problems," said  Desentz.

Sheba the Elephant at the Belle Isle Zoo during the 1940s
1940s Detroit Zoo Guide - Asian Elephant Net website

"She is five tons of gray, ponderous beauty."

That's how Rex G. White of the Detroit News described the now-forgotten treasure of the Belle Isle Zoo: Sheba the Asian elephant.

She arrived in Detroit in 1923 and lived at the Belle Isle Zoo until she died on Jan. 2, 1959.

And it all began with a letter written by a schoolgirl.

A mild weather day
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

2016 was the hottest year on record.

When we talk about climate change, we usually talk about extreme weather events: extreme heat, drought, flooding. But scientists have also studied what’s likely to happen with the best weather days. Days that are not too hot, not too cold, or humid or rainy. Just right.

A kitchen sink in Flint with a point-of-use water filter.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In Flint, experts are warning that one potential solution to the city’s lead-tainted tap water has some serious potential downsides.

Whole house filters cleanse water of impurities and chemicals. Groups have been promoting their use in Flint to screen out lead. A company gave a presentation to the city council just a few days ago.

But experts say the filters have a downside.

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha helped raised the alarm about lead in Flint’s tap water. She says ‘whole-house’ filters don’t screen out lead that leaches from pipes and filters inside the home.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

A state board wants more information on how Consumers Energy will make up for the nearly 800 megawatts of power that will be lost after the Palisades Nuclear Plant’s planned shut down in 2018.

In documents filed this month, Consumers said it plans to make up for the lost nuclear power with an expanded wind farm in Michigan’s Thumb region, increased energy efficiency, and by purchasing power from within the regional electric grid.

Honey bees face a number of threats.
cygnus921 / Creative Commons

Researchers have found a chemical that’s widely used on crops such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits can be bad for bees.

They’ve found it makes honey bee larvae more susceptible to deadly viruses.

Gov. Snyder delivers his 2017 State of the State address.
House TV

The environment came up a handful of times in Governor Snyder’s State of the State address.

The governor was often light on details, and he didn't talk about the Flint water crisis until halfway through the speech.

But Snyder did announce some new initiatives. He called for more investment in our aging infrastructure, announced a work group to study environmental justice issues, reminded the Legislature that he wants tighter standards for lead in drinking water.

Detroit's Water Works Plant.
Great Lakes Water Authority / Facebook

Residents of Downriver Detroit communities have reported since last week that their tap water smells and tastes like sulfur.

Great Lakes Water Authority officials said the problem has been traced to a temporary spike in water particulates during a routine cleaning of the settling basins at the GLWA's Southwest Water Treatment plant. 

John Vucetich/Rolf Peterson / Michigan Tech University

The Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project has been tracking the rare ecosystem on Isle Royale for almost 60 years. What makes Isle Royale rare is that the island, located in Lake Superior roughly 50 miles from the Upper Peninsula, has just two main animals inhabiting it. The food chain is simple: The wolves are the predators and the moose are the prey.

(Support trusted journalism like this in Michigan. Give what you can here.)

Recently, the tracking of the wolves and moose on Isle Royale led to an unlikely musical creation. 

Brian Peshek

Earlier this month, Republicans in the U.S. House made it easier for the federal government to give up control of public lands to states.

Many of the most avid users of these lands, especially hunters and anglers, are on edge about the idea.

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Maialisa / Pixabay

The U.S. EPA is proposing rules that would require plumbing manufacturers to mark pipes and fittings for drinking water as “lead free.”

Back in the 1980s, Congress banned lead in plumbing pieces, solder and pipes used for drinking water. Now the EPA wants manufacturers to do a better job labeling these “lead free” fixtures so people don’t accidentally mix them up with similar products that don’t have to be lead free.

Until 2014, “lead free” brass fittings could have up to 8% lead.

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

The Next Idea

Last month, Traverse City officials pledged that by the year 2020, all city operations will be powered by renewable energy. That means traffic signals, street lights, and city-owned buildings will get their power from wind, solar, and other clean sources.

Kate Madigan, the Energy and Climate Specialist for the Michigan Environmental Council and director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, joined Stateside to talk about the ambitious effort and if this could be a trend for other cities in the state.

The Swiss corporation, Nestle, wants to increase how much water it takes from a well in Evart, Michigan.
cmh2315fl / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Swiss corporation Nestle wants to increase how much water it takes from a well in Evart, Michigan.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality used a computer modeling program called the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool to assess the potential effect of an increase.

Enbridge's Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.
Enbridge

The Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline stretches from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. It crosses northern Wisconsin into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then under the Straits of Mackinac which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

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The path of the 64-year-old pipeline also crosses the Bad River Reservation in northeast Wisconsin.

According to Robert Blanchard, the chairman of the Bad River Band Tribal Council, the easement under which Enbridge has been operating the pipeline on the Bad River Reservation expired in 2013. Last week, the council voted not to renew the easement, which could eventually lead to removal of the section of the pipeline that crosses through the reservation.

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video / Enbridge Energy

Legislation has been introduced in Congress calling for a shut down of Enbridge's Line 5 if a federal study shows that it threatens the Great Lakes.

Line 5 is the controversial, 63 year-old underwater pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

The legislation would require the federal government to conduct a study to determine the economic and environmental risks to the Great Lakes from possible failures of Line 5, and it puts a 12 month deadline on completing the study.

Republican Dave Trott and Democrat Debbie Dingell are co-sponsors of the legislation.

Dan Mullen / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the first time in the U.S., a bumble bee has been listed as an endangered species. 

It’s called the rusty patched bumble bee. The species is no longer found in Michigan, but small populations still exist elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

Waves on Lake Michigan.
user ellenm1 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Tsunamis in the oceans are often triggered by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But scientists say there’s a kind of tsunami that’s also a common occurrence on the Great Lakes.

These waves aren’t nearly as big as the ones on the oceans, but they can be deadly.

One reported to be 10 feet tall hit a Chicago pier in 1954 and seven people drowned.

Here's a meteorological model of that event:

Adam Bechle is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin. He says tsunamis on the Great Lakes are not so different from the ones in the ocean.

Bruce Power / Ontario Power Generation

Controversy still swirls around a Canadian company's plan to bury low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste a little more than half a mile from the shores of Lake Huron.

Opponents of the proposal have slammed a study Ontario Power Generation recently submitted to the Canadian environment ministry.  

OPG's study concluded that the Bruce Nuclear site near Lake Huron is the right place for an underground nuclear waste repository.

What can we learn about water from the people in Bolivia?
Florence.S / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

For centuries, residents of the Great Lakes state have been able to take water for granted. But the Flint water crisis, coupled with 70,000 households in Detroit having their water shut off, have forced Michigan to confront water issues in a way we never have before.

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Valerie Vande Panne, an award-winning journalist, thinks that in order to learn from these water crises, we need to look to the south. To Bolivia. That's where people fought back, and won, against corporate water control.

The Chevy Bolt
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Chevy Bolt won the 2017 North American Car of the Year. It’s a long-range electric car.

The EPA estimates the Bolt can travel 238 miles per charge, and GM thinks of it as an electric car that will have mass appeal. After a federal tax credit, the price of the car comes in around $30,000.

Tesla is planning to release a more affordable electric car. They call it the Model 3. But GM beat Tesla to it.

Karl Brauer is executive publisher at Auto Trader.

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