Environment & Science

Environment & Science
1:50 pm
Sun June 24, 2012

PCB cleanup continues along Kalamazoo River

An artist's rendering of a polychlorinated biphenyls molecule
Foxriverwatch.com

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - Cleanup of sediments contaminated with PCBs continues along parts of the Kalamazoo River.

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Environment & Science
10:45 am
Sat June 23, 2012

No date set for reopening of Palisades nuclear power plant

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - A spokesman says work continues at the Palisades nuclear plant 10 days after the southwestern Michigan facility was shut down to repair a leak in a water tank.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage said Friday that crews are analyzing and evaluating the tank.

The plant in Van Buren County's Covert Township voluntarily shut down June 12th.

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Environment & Science
11:07 am
Fri June 22, 2012

Changing lights to reduce bird-tower collisions

These birds, labeled by species, were found at the base of an 850-foot television tower near Elmira, NY in the wake of Hurricane Floyd. Ornithologists say communications towers pose the greatest hazard to birds during periods of poor visibility.
Cornell University

Communications towers make all kinds of things possible. Emergency responders, TV stations, and wireless networks need them, and of course, when you listen to stories on the radio, they come to you by way of a tower.

These towers have lights on them at night so pilots can see them and avoid running into them.

But it turns out, some kinds of tower lights can be deadly for migratory birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups recently looked at bird-tower collisions in the U.S. and Canada. The study estimated that close to 7 million birds are killed each year. Neotropical songbirds that migrate at night are the most affected.

Joelle Gehring is a senior conservation scientist at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. It’s part of Michigan State University.

"We don’t understand the exact psyche of what’s going on with birds and why they’re attracted into the lights," she said, "but it is not unlike a moth attracted into a porch light."

She says during the spring and fall migration, birds that fly at night can get confused by the steady-burning lights on towers. She says cloudy or foggy nights make it hard for birds to navigate using stars.

"Some people believe that when the stars are obscured from vision of these migratory birds who are using stars and sunrise and sunset for navigation, that that is when they are drawn into the lights of the communication tower, that is when they start circling and circling and potentially hitting a guy wire or becoming simply exhausted," she said.

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Environment & Science
12:40 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Most of the Kalamazoo River, closed since a 2010 oil spill, is being reopened

Signs like this are coming down along a 34 mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Much of the Kalamazoo River, closed to the public since the 2010 Enbridge oil spill, is now reopened.

It’s been nearly two years since a broken pipeline near Marshall leaked more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil that eventually fouled more than 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

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Environment & Science
4:56 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

Yesterday's temperatures in Ann Arbor reached 1995 record of 95 degrees

Nickolas Muray flickr Creative Commons

AnnArbor.com reports that the city's 95 degree high yesterday tied with the record-breaking temperature from 17 years ago:

Tuesday’s sweltering heat in Ann Arbor tied the June 19, 1995 high temperature record for 95 degrees, and today has already been declared an ozone action day, said University of Michigan Weather Observer Dennis Kahlbaum.

"Any time we get into the 90s, there’s warnings out for people that may be more susceptible to high temperatures,” Kahlbaum said. “That always goes hand in hand.”

Pollutants are expected to be in the unhealthy range for sensitive groups.

The action day is in effect for the following Michigan counties: Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne.

This is the fifth air quality alert for Washtenaw County so far this year, with other recent ones occurring on Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday’s heat felt a bit hotter than the actual temperature because of the 98 degree heat index.

As the hot weather continues today, here are some tips from the CDC about how to stay safe in extreme heat.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
1:01 am
Wed June 20, 2012

Illinois officials downplay postive test for Asian Carp DNA near Lake Michigan

A Bighead carp caught in June of 2010 in Lake Calumet, Illinois
Illinois DNR

Illinois officials are downplaying the recent discovery of Asian Carp DNA in a waterway a short distance from Lake Michigan.

Asian Carp are an invasive species that experts fear could devastate fish native to the Great Lakes.

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Environment & Science
3:26 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Possible signs of Asian carp found near Lake Michigan

Juvenile silver carp, seen here, can grow up to weigh 100 pounds.
user MirkoB Wikimedia Commons

A survey recently conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed positive evidence for genetic material from silver carp in southwest Chicago. 

The May 22 test showed 17 positive identifications for the DNA of silver carp in 112 sites sampled in Lake Calumet and Little Calumet River through a process called "eDNA," or environmental DNA testing. The test involves filtering water samples for fragments of DNA shed by target species.

Genetic material left from carp tissue, mucus, feces or urine is not a certain indication of the presence of a live Asian carp; the DNA found in testing could have come from dead fish or water from another source.

Researchers also tested for bighead carp in the area, another species of Asian carp, though all results were negative. 

The AP reports:

Jared Teutsch, water policy advocate for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said in a statement Monday the findings mean "another year of worry" about Asian carp.

Bighead and silver carp were imported from Asia. They have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries. An electric barrier is meant to block them.

Dozens of water samples taken beyond the barrier in recent years have contained Asian carp DNA, although just one actual carp has been found there.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
2:00 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

The University of Michigan to lead a $152M NASA satellite project

The program is aimed at improving extreme weather prediction for storms like Hurricane Isabel, seen here.
Mike Trenchard Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory , Johnson Space Center (Wikimedia Commons)

The University of Michigan has been selected to lead a $152 million NASA satellite project aimed at improving hurricane and extreme weather prediction.

The school announced today that the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System is designed to make accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. It's made up of small satellites to be carried into orbit.

Information collected will enable scientists to explore key air-sea interactions that take place near the core of storms.

Principal investigator Christopher Ruf is a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, and electrical engineering and computer sciences. The satellite system science team includes Aaron Ridley and Derek Posselt, who are professors of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences.

Environment & Science
12:31 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Ladies' trash collecting group goes after garbage as a hobby

(L to R) Moy Garretson, Karen Rooke and Melinda Fons spend some of their free time picking up trash while they're out on walks together. They say it's more fun than working out at the gym.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

When you’re driving around southeast Michigan, you might happen to see three women on the side of the road. They’re all moms, but their kids are grown up. They work part time. They fill their free time by picking up trash... for fun.

"This is a beautiful area, and yet we have piles of garbage there."

Melinda Fons is with her friends Moy Garretson and Karen Rooke in suburban Detroit.

Karen: "Wagons roll!"

They get plastic grabbers and garbage bags out of the trunk. And they head into a little wooded patch next to a busy two-lane road.

Karen Rooke starts on the edges.

"I’ve got some cups, a newspaper and a plastic bag. And a credit card... ooh this is good. I’ll take that to the police."

The three women crawl under trees and into bushes to get the trash. There’s a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, empty rum bottles, a tire... and two more credit cards.

Karen: "I picked up 20 vodka bottles once and Listerine. I think it’s the kids that go drink down there. It’s just a quiet road, and have the Listerine so their parents – they think - don’t know. We were young once too!"

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Environment & Science
12:05 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Blacklegged tick population booms along west Michigan shoreline

Blacklegged ticks are increasing in Michigan, especially in counties along the western shoreline.
CDC

Blacklegged ticks – formerly known as deer ticks - are historically rare in the Lower Peninsula. But over the past decade, that’s been changing. The tick population is booming along the west Michigan shoreline.

Erik Foster is a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. He’s been studying the tick population as it’s been moving north.

“It’s been so rapid, anecdotal reports say within the last five years of these ticks moving in and just really flourishing. Because of the habitat, and because of the amount of hosts they have to feed on.”

He says the Lake Michigan shoreline is a good habitat for ticks.

Foster says because the winter was so mild, more mice and chipmunks survived. Those animals are hosts for ticks, and that means more ticks made it through the winter too.

He says deer and birds are also hosts for ticks, and they're transporting the insects north.

Foster says blacklegged ticks can transmit Lyme disease. He recommends wearing insect repellant that contains DEET and checking yourself and your pets for ticks after you walk in tall grass or in the woods.

You can learn more about ticks in this document from the state of Michigan: Ticks and Your Health.

Environment & Science
2:09 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

DNR to search lake after illegal carp report

A Michigan DNR group today will search for Grass Carp, seen here.
user Dezidor Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife experts are searching a southern Michigan lake for illegal carp this week after a fisherman submitted a photo of a 3-foot-long grass carp, a species of Asian carp.

A crew traveled today to set up nets in Marrs Lake in Lenawee County, about 20 miles southeast of Jackson. Department of Natural Resources agency biologist Todd Kalish  says the crew plans to pull out the nets on Thursday to inventory what's found.

MDNR Fisheries Specialist Elizabeth Hay-Chmielewski traveled with that group today.  She says the grass carp is capable of disrupting a lake's ecosystem.

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Environment & Science
3:27 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Romeo dies in an old mine: How three Isle Royale wolves died

"Romeo" was eager to mate with other females. He was one of the wolves that died in the mine shaft last fall. He's seen here following a female wolf in 2010.
Michigan Tech

In the last year, seven wolves on Isle Royale died. The total population is now down to nine wolves.

That's the lowest number recorded by researchers who have been studying the Isle Royale wolf population for the last 54 years. It's the longest continuous predator-prey study in the world.

When Rebecca Williams and I visited Rolf Peterson on Isle Royale last month, we asked him about the die-off.

He told us they didn't know what happened to them, "but we will know," he said.

Well, now they know how three of the seven wolves died. One was a young female wolf.

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Environment & Science
1:08 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

EPA proposes new standard to cut soot emissions

Smog and air pollution around downtown Los Angeles.
Ali Azimi Creative Commons

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal today to cap soot emissions at between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) annually. The current standard is 15 µg/m3 annually. The agency is required to update the standard every five years.

In a press release from the American Lung Association, Albert Rizzo, M.D., chair of the board of the ALA, emphasized the dangers of soot.

"Particle pollution kills — the science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially 'safe' causes heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks," Rizzo said.

"The Clean Air Act gives the American public the truth about pollution that is threatening their lives and health—just as they would expect the truth from their doctor," he added.    

Last year the ALA, the Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm, released a report warning of the dangers of soot and urging the EPA to set stricter emissions standards.

Their analysis estimated that capping emissions at 11 µg/m3 annually and 25 µg/m3 daily would prevent:

  • 35,700 premature deaths
  • 2,350 heart attacks
  • 23,290 hospital and emergency room visits
  • 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis
  • 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma

According to the report, these standards would save about $281 billion in medical costs annually.

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Environment & Science
2:39 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Cougars on the rise in the Midwest

Wayne Dumbleton Flickr

A study by The Journal of Wildlife Management finds the number of cougars is on the rise in the Midwest. Adam Bump is part of what he calls the "cougar team" with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says cougars are traveling from North and South Dakota into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But, he says, the cougars are not breeding.

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Environment & Science
10:44 am
Thu June 14, 2012

Palisades nuclear power plant shuts down to fix water leak

The Palisades reactor
Mark Savage Entergy Nuclear Operations

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has an aluminum water tank that’s used in case of emergencies or when the plant needs to be refueled.  That water tank has been leaking for several weeks.  On Tuesday evening, the Palisades plant was shut down so workers can fix the leak.

The shutdown this week was a planned outage – so, in other words, the plant operators saw this coming.

Mark Savage is a spokesperson for Entergy, the company that owns the Palisades plant.  He says this tank has been leaking for several weeks. It’s an old aluminum tank that holds 300,000 gallons of water.  He says the tank is the same age as the Palisades plant: 40 years old.

It’s considered to be a small leak and the company has been collecting the water and monitoring it for weeks.  But on Tuesday the amount reached 31 gallons per day... and that was the threshold where the company determined the leak had to be fixed. So that means taking the plant out of service.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in charge of oversight on the country's nuclear power plants. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says the water leaking out of the tank does not pose any safety hazard.

"They’re collecting that water; it has no way of getting out of the plant. It cannot go outside and it does not pose a threat to plant workers and at this rate of leakage it does not compromise the plant’s stability or safety."

Entergy's Mark Savage declined to say how long the outage will last.  But he says the procedure is pretty straightforward:

"Shut the reactor down - which we’ve done, unload the water from the tank, find the leak, repair the leak, fill it up again and start the reactor back up."

This time around the shutdown was planned.  But Palisades had five unplanned shutdowns last year – and one of those was considered to be of substantial safety significance.  Because of that the power plant now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country, and that means the federal government is watching the plant more closely. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says they want to see how the plant operators handle this repair... and find out what caused the leak in the first place.

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energy
1:38 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Palisades nuclear plant shut down to fix leaky water tank

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven, Michigan.
Mark Savage Entergy Corporation

The leaky tank in question at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven holds 300,000 gallons of water in case of emergencies or a planned refueling outage. In a written statement issued late Tuesday night a Palisades spokesman says workers have been collecting and analyzing water that’s leaked from the tank.

On Tuesday workers collected 31 gallons of water. At that point administrators declared the tank "inoperable" and shut down the plant down while workers fix the leak.

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development
2:46 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

One lawsuit settled, but likely more to come in Singapore Dunes case

This is an artist rendering of how a proposed marina might look. Singapore Dunes LLC provided it in July 2011. Singapore wants to build a marina, condos and a hotel among other things on the property.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A federal judge has signed off on a long-standing legal dispute between Saugatuck Township and Oklahoma energy executive Aubrey McClendon. The case revolves around the potential development of 300 acres of land McClendon owns that includes critical dunes near Lake Michigan.

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue June 12, 2012

Engineering students race for the highest mpg in Supermileage Competition

The Penn State University team heads toward the track.
Logan Chadde Michigan Radio

They look like one-person bobsleds. They run on lawnmower engines. And they get incredible mileage.

They’re cars that achieve what’s called supermileage. College engineering students from as far away as Quebec come to compete in the SAE International Supermileage Competition.

It’s held every year at the Eaton Corporation Proving Grounds in Marshall, Michigan.

When we visited last week, a lot of the students were scrambling to finish last-minute improvements to their vehicles before the moment of truth.

Each driver had to complete six laps on a 1.6 mile track. And they had to maintain an average speed of 15 miles per hour. Teams could do as many runs as they wanted.

Laura Pillari is the driver for the University of Michigan team.

"I was a little nervous because there's a lot of stuff to do with my hands, and I'm kind of crammed in there with this little helmet, and it's very, very hot in that car in the sun."

To measure mileage, competition officials gave each team regulation fuel tanks that were weighed before and after each run. These vehicles can get hundreds or even thousands of miles to the gallon.

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Environment & Science
12:02 pm
Mon June 11, 2012

U.S. Forest Service restoring endangered butterfly habitat in West Michigan

user Hollingsworth, J & K wkimedia commons

The Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species native to parts of the Midwest, including Michigan, is getting some help from the U.S. environmental authorities.

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. Forest Service is restoring a savannah-type landscape in the southern part of the Manistee National Forest to create habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Officials say the work will take place this summer in Muskegon and Oceana counties. The goal is to create a grassy environment that will promote growth of colorful lupine plants, on which the butterflies feed during their caterpillar stage.

Other species that thrive in such a setting include Hill's thistle, the golden-winged warbler, dusted skipper, and eastern box turtle. It's also good for game species such as wild turkey, white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse.

The Forest Service will remove some trees and set controlled fires to develop the savannah habitat. It also will close many unauthorized "two-track" roads that cause erosion.

More information about efforts to protect the Karner blue can be found on the Environment Report, or if you are feeling festive, consider attending the Karner Blue Butterfly Festival  this summer in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Lessons from Isle Royale
2:51 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Extinction of wolves could lead to extinction of study on Isle Royale

Rolf Peterson holds up the song sheet for the evening. Candy Peterson loves to get people singing. She says "people shouldn't say, 'I can't sing,' they should say 'I don't sing very often.'"
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

We've been posting radio pieces, videos, and blog posts all week as part of our series Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Researchers like Durwood Allen, and Michigan Tech's John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson have been keeping a close eye on the animals on the island for more than five decades.

Peterson has been doing it the longest. He's been watching and documenting things on Isle Royale for 42 years.

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