Environment & Science

User: Joseph Xu/Michigan Engineering / Flickr

Imagine being able to wear a small sensor just like a bandage – you don't even know it's there.

That little sensor can detect vapors from your body that could be from anemia, diabetes, or lung disease.

The breakthrough is coming from a team of researchers at the University of Michigan.

Sherman Fan is a professor of biomedical engineering at the university.

Fan says the device is not the same as other wearable technologies like Google Glass, the Apple iWatch, or the FitBit, which conduct blood pressure measurement.

“In our case, we’re measuring vapors, which is a chemical measurement,” says Fan.

Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This Saturday, 35 baby sturgeon will be released into the Kalamazoo River at a sturgeon release party. It’ll be in New Richmond and it’s open to the public.

Lake sturgeon are ancient fish. They’re Michigan’s oldest and biggest fish species and can live to be more than 100 years old. Many populations of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes were wiped out decades ago, but people have been working to bring them back.   

Systems Biology Research Group, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

A research team has produced the first complete genome sequencing of a strain of E. coli. This particular strain is associated with outbreaks of food poisoning that can be deadly.

Haythem Latif is on the research team at the University of California-San Diego.

“Although early detection is key to treatment, it has been known to cause severe renal failure in children,” Latif said.

He says the updated genome sequence for this strain of E. coli will help scientists tell one strain from another.

“During an outbreak, you may have 100 patients or whatever, that have had this and what you do is you’d type each of the different people’s pathogenic E. coli strain that they have and then you can trace it back to some kind of a source or some kind of lineage of a bacterial outbreak.”

Latif says sequencing technology has improved over time and that has allowed the research team to update the sequence for this strain.

Lake Improvement Association / Flickr

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The federal government is coming up with more money to help farmers cut down on the fertilizers that are feeding cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, in Lake Erie.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced Friday that an additional $1 million will go into a program that will give grants to farmers who plant winter crops.

Researchers say winter crops help to stop fertilizers from washing into streams and rivers that flow into Lake Erie.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

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.

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.

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. 

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

Grey wolf.
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.

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
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.

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. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

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.

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.

A section of new pipeline for Enbridge's line 6B.
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.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

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."

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.

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.

User mgreason / wikimedia commons

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.

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:

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.

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.

The flooding event in Detroit fits the global warming pattern, according to reports such as National Climate Assessment.
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?"

Saginaw River, Bay City
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.

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.

Tree planting demonstration led by the Greening of Detroit
User: The Greening of Detroit / facebook

When you bring up your mental image of big post-industrial American cities like Detroit, do you think of blight, decaying buildings, or empty lots?

You probably don’t think of trees or green infrastructure.

Dean Hay wants to change that. He is the Director of Green Infrastructure at Greening of Detroit. This group has planted more than 81,000 trees in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park since it began in 1989.

Hay says with the tremendous challenges Detroit is facing, it is still important to put energy and resources into planting trees.

“Trees are community builders. They help us have safe streets and reduce crime. The shades they produce reduce summer temperatures in these areas. Wherever there’s a large canopy area, the value of those houses increase,” says Hay.

Perhaps we can learn lessons from Milwaukee in building a strong green infrastructure. Joe Wilson is the executive director at Greening Milwaukee, a city which was recently named as one of the 10 Best Urban Forests in America.

"We see trees as a part of our infrastructure. We see it as important and vital as our sewer system, as important and as vital as our utility system," says Wilson.

*Listen to our conversation with Dean Hay and Joe Wilson above.

Lundin Mining

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by state environmental regulators to allow construction of a nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.

A three-judge panel unanimously sided with the Department of Environmental Quality, which issued mining and groundwater discharge permits to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. The Marquette County mine is now owned by Lundin Mining Corp.

DEQ officials approved a mining permit for the project in 2007, drawing legal challenges from environmentalists and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. A DEQ administrative law judge and a circuit court judge affirmed the department's decisions, and opponents took the case to the Court of Appeals.

The mine has been constructed and is scheduled to begin producing minerals this fall.

Ben Alman

Michigan cereal maker Kellogg announced a broad initiative today to tackle a number of environmental issues.

The company says its efforts will be focused in two areas:

  1. Responsible sourcing, and
  2. Conserving natural resources.

The company says it will “responsibly source its top 10 ingredients and materials by 2020, and validate compliance across all direct suppliers by 2015.”

They also say they will work to be more efficient with their packaging materials and will continue to work on reducing how much energy is used in making their products.

You can read more about all their “Global Sustainability 2020 Commitments” here.

Diane Holdorf is the the company's chief sustainability officer.

The company plans to educate and give resources to its suppliers to be more energy efficient as well as reduce water use and maintain healthier soil.

"We're really trying to look very holistically at the business and what makes sense, not just for us and what's right for the environment and society, but also for our consumers, our customers and our other stakeholders, knowing that not only is it what we expect of ourselves, but it's what others expect of us as well," Holdorf said.

More from John Flesher of the Associated Press:

Under the plan, the Battle Creek-based food products manufacturer will require key suppliers such as farms and mills to measure and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas outputs and targets for reducing them. The company said it will report annually on those emissions and include climate and deforestation policies in the company's code of conduct for suppliers.

Earlier this year, Oxfam International was critical of food companies for not doing enough to combat climate change. They called the Kellogg Company and General Mills "climate laggards."

Oxfam praised this latest effort by Kellogg. 

– Alyse Guenther, Michigan Radio Newsroom

*This post was updated.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

These days, getting pretty much any kind of environmental policy made into law involves a lot of fighting and delay.

New research from Michigan State University finds Americans are becoming more divided over environmental protection and they seem to be getting their cue mainly from Congress.

Aaron McCright is a sociologist at MSU and the lead author of the study. He writes that things weren’t always so partisan. In fact, many landmark environmental laws were born during the Nixon Administration.

From 'Red Scare' to 'Green Menace'

But then the Soviet Union fell and, according to McCright's research, the American conservative movement (consisting of major conservative think tanks, wealthy families, and conservative foundations) moved its focus away from former communists toward what they saw as the 'green menace'.

"This really came through in the late 80s and early 90s, so this anti-environmentalism of the conservative movement was driving the changing policy stance of the Republican party and it's mostly because of a significant drop off in pro-environmental voting among Republicans in both the House and the Senate,"said McCright. "Whereas the Democrats just sort of continued on a light, upward trend in pro-environmental voting."

Rainbow trout at a Michigan fish hatchery facility
User: All Things Michigan / Flickr

​Environmental groups are asking the state to take back permission for a fish hatchery to expand its operations on a legendary trout stream. The operator has been given permission to raise as much as 300,000 pounds of rainbow trout in the facility. 

The complaint says there are not enough protections to ensure the Grayling Fish Hatchery won’t allow diseases and parasites to escape into the Au Sable River.

Marvin Roberson is with the Sierra Club.

“The permit doesn’t require those pools to be monitored to see whether or not fish or parasites or diseases are escaping from the facility, and we think it’s outlandish to say 'you don’t have to check to see whether those things are getting out,'” Roberson said.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality says the agency is closely monitoring the water around the hatchery, and will act quickly if there’s a problem.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr

Ever wonder what you can find below the surface of our Great Lakes? David Jude tells us on today's Stateside.

Jude is a research scientist emeritus at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.

Jude says the most fish-populated lake is Lake Erie. It’s shallow, has very diverse habitat, and as a result, has high species diversity. The least-populated lake is Lake Superior because of its cold temperatures and depth.

In his experience, Jude says the species you are most likely to see in each of the lakes are:

  • Lake Erie – round goby, yellow perch, gizzard shad, brook silverside, largemouth and smallmouth bass;
  • Lake Huron – spottail shiner, quagga and zebra mussels, emerald shiner, walleye, and lake herring;
  • Lake Ontario – Atlantic salmon, round goby, gizzard shad, spottail shiner, yellow perch, and white perch;
  • Lake Michigan – spottail shiner, round goby, and yellow perch;
  • Lake Superior – lake herring, emerald shiner, and longnose dace.

*Listen to the full interview with David Jude above.

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