Environment & Science

Environment & Science
6:32 pm
Sat June 2, 2012

Progress reported in U.P. wildfires

NEWBERRY, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says it's making good progress battling an Upper Peninsula wildfire as some people return to their homes.

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Environment & Science
5:39 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

Park reopens nearly two years after oil spill

Historic Bridge Park, just south of Battle Creek. The Kalamazoo River winds past the park. The river remains off limits due to contamination from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Life is slowly returning to normal along the Kalamazoo River nearly two years after a broken pipeline dumped more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil into the river.

Today,  a Calhoun County park that has been closed since the oil spill officially reopened to the public.

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Environment & Science
1:28 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

State OKs Dow dioxin clean-up plan

Imerman Park sits on the flood plain of the Tittabawassee River. Signs along the trail warn walkers about dioxin contamination in some of the park's soil.
Shawn Allee The Environment Report

After years of back-and-forth between residents, regulators and Dow Chemical, a massive clean-up of contaminated soil in Midland is getting under way.

The state approved the cleanup plan today. It calls for soil testing on 1,400 properties. Officials are looking for dioxins. Those are byproducts of chemical manufacturing. The toxins have been linked to health problems, including cancer.

"After all the meetings I've attended over the years and everything, and being asked why's this taking so long and everything, it's nice to be able to tell somebody the actual clean-up is really being done," said Jim Sygo, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Quality.

The plan calls for removing and replacing soil contaminated with dioxin at levels above 250 parts per trillion.

Sygo says that's a level that studies have determined poses an unacceptable cancer risk.

Environmental groups say they think the number should be lower, and take into account health risks other than cancer.

Still, some are celebrating the milestone.

“If you know the history of the city of Midland, and how political this has been, and how much push-back there has been from city fathers, from the business community, from the Chamber of Commerce, from Dow Chemical, over decades, I think only then can you truly appreciate…this is significant progress for that community,” said Michelle Hurd Riddick of the Lone Tree Council.

Dow Chemical Co.'s plan to clean up sites with dioxin contamination near its Midland facility has been approved by Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.

Back in February, Dow also offered a land purchase and relocation program to about 50 landowners living near the company's Michigan Operations manufacturing plant.

From a Dow press release:

Dow is offering this incentivized property purchase program to give property owners in the immediate area north and east of Michigan Operations...the option to move out of an industrial/commercial area to a residential area, if they so choose. The program will also offer relocation support for those who rent their homes, if the property owner participates in the program.

As the Environment Report's Rebecca Williams has reported, dioxins are a class of toxic chemicals that appear "in the environment as by-products of many industrial processes and some natural sources." The Environmental Protection Agency says dioxins are likely to cause cancer in humans.

-John Klein Wilson contributed to this report

Environment & Science
10:40 am
Thu May 31, 2012

Flame retardant chemical detected in food

Flame retardant chemicals are in many of the products we use in our homes and offices. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies suggest the chemicals could be linked to a variety of health problems. Reiner Kraft

A flame retardant chemical that’s used in insulation and electrical equipment is showing up in food. It's called hexabromocyclododecane or HBCD. 

Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency says about the chemical:

HBCD is found world-wide in the environment and wildlife. It is also found in human breast milk, adipose tissue, and blood. It bioaccumulates in living organisms and biomagnifies in the food chain. It is persistent in the environment and is transported long distances.

HBCD is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. It also presents human health concerns based on animal test results indicating potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects.

Flame retardant chemicals are used in hundreds of consumer products. Certain kinds of these chemicals leach out of our couches, our TVs, our carpet padding and many other things in our homes. They've been found in household dust and in food, and they're getting into our bodies.

Linda Birnbaum is the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Toxicology Program.

She’s a senior author of a study out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and I spoke with her for today's Environment Report.  For the study, the team purchased 36 samples of foods common in American diets from Dallas, Texas supermarkets, including peanut butter, poultry, fish and beef.  HBCD was detected in 15 of the samples.

"We primarily found it in fatty foods of animal origin, so fatty animal products. This is a chemical that loves to be in the fat, and that’s where we’re finding it."

Williams: "Now, were the levels you found high enough to be of concern?"

Birnbaum: "The levels are very, very low. I would call this micro-contamination. In our 2010 study where we looked at the total presence of this chemical, at that point we estimated that the daily intake was about 1,000 fold lower than what is believed to be a safe dose."

HBCD is showing up in people's bodies. The study states that food "may be a substantial contributor to the elevated α-HBCD levels observed in humans."

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Environment & Science
2:45 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

Report: Enbridge stopped and restarted pipeline during oil spill

The stretch of Enbridge's 6B pipeline that broke near Marshall, Michigan. The pipeline is being investigated by the NTSB.
NTSB

A report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board shows employees in an Enbridge control center located in Edmonton, Alberta did not know they were pressurizing a ruptured oil pipeline in Michigan.

Employees in the control center felt they were dealing with false alarms due to pressure losses in the pipeline after a planned shutdown.

The pressure losses were not due to "column separation" as some thought (air and vapor pockets between slugs of oil in the pipeline). They were caused by a break in the line.

The rupture led to the spill, and the continued pumping made it worse. More than 840,000 gallons of oil spilled, according to Enbridge.

However, the EPA estimates that more than 1 million gallons of thick, tar sands oil have been removed from Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River so far. The spill is still being cleaned up nearly two years later.

The NTSB estimates the pipeline ruptured around 5:58 p.m. on Sunday, July 25, 2010. Enbridge officials didn't know they had a spill on their hands for nearly 17 hours after the initial break.

In fact, employees increased the pressure in the pipeline - twice.

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Environment & Science
11:23 am
Wed May 30, 2012

Tahquamenon Falls State Park reopens after wildfire

Tahquamenon Falls
Bhasker Garudadri wikimedia commons

A popular state park is reopening near a wildfire that's been burning across more than 30 square miles of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

A Department of Natural Resources spokesman says Upper Falls and related facilities in Tahquamenon Falls State Park have reopened, and the Lower Falls campground is expected to reopen at noon today. The well-known destination for campers was originally closed because of smoke and ash problems. The DNR spokesman says those conditions have cleared up in the park.

The DNR says the blaze known as the Duck Lake Fire began with a lightning strike last week and burned about 34 square miles.

Environment & Science
10:27 am
Wed May 30, 2012

Invasive species hit your pocketbook

Sea lamprey cost taxpayers millions every year to control.
user drow_male wikimedia commons

The Nature Conservancy has released an analysis saying that invasive species such as zebra mussels and sea lamprey cost businesses and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, besides damaging the environment in the Great Lakes region.

Power companies spend $130 million annually removing mussels from electric plants.

The report out yesterday said tourism and other industries lose $50 million a year in reduced demand because of invasive species.

The study conducted by Anderson Economic Group of East Lansing says the situation will get worse if Asian carp reach the Great Lakes.

Environment & Science
3:47 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Michigan business group opposes new mandate for renewable energy

user vaxomatic flickr

Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce officials said today they opposed a ballot initiative aimed at creating a new renewable electric energy standard for the state, according to MLive. The state is currently working toward a standard that calls for generating 10 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

The ballot initiative seeks to bump up that mandate to 25 percent by 2025. From MLive:

Chamber officials said any changes to Michigan’s renewable energy standard should wait until the current standard has been fully evaluated in three years.

“Michigan is already on an intelligent and affordable clean energy path because of the 2008 energy law, which passed the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, said Chamber president and CEO Sandy K. Baruah in a statement.

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs campaign is still seeking to collect enough signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Last week, during a segment for the Environment Report, James Clift, Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), said Michigan currently gets around 3.5 percent of its energy from renewable resources.

The MEC supports the ballot initiative. Clift said a new standard would continue the progress made after the 2015 standard is met (adding about 1.5 to 2 percent of renewable energy each year).

"The Michigan Environmental Council commissioned a report last year looking at the nine oldest coal plants in Michigan, said Clift. "That report found that Michigan residents have health care costs and damages of about $1.5 billion a year – just from those nine oldest coal plants. So, transitioning away from coal to clean more renewable energy, we hope will put a significant dent in those health costs that we are currently occurring. "

Utility companies oppose increasing the renewable electric energy standard saying such a standard should not be set by amending the state constitution, which the ballot proposal calls for.

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark spoke with Brad Williams of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce about the issue:

"We’re looking at this as a protection of the constitution," said Williams. "There are legislators who can serve their full fourteen years in Lansing without having a good grasp of energy policy. And, so, to ask voters to make this decision and embed it into the constitution really isn’t fair to voters."

Environment & Science
10:49 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Michigan Senate scraps DEQ permit for beach grooming

Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

Let’s say you own a beach house. You might want to pull out some plants or mow them or smooth out the sand to make it look nice.

At the moment, if you want to do any of these things, you need a permit from both the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Maggie Cox is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department has to make sure everyone can walk on the beaches, and she says sensitive wetlands need to be protected.

"Your property line is down to the water’s edge – but the state also holds in trust for the public the land up to ordinary high water mark."

Last week, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would eliminate the state permit for beach maintenance.

Several environmental groups are opposed to that.  (You can check out this Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council brochure on beach grooming.)

The DEQ’s Maggie Cox says her agency will still have oversight of beach maintenance in wetland areas.

"In areas that are mostly sand or mostly rock, you no longer have to get a permit from the department. But in areas that are wet or coastal wetlands, made up mostly of bulrush or other vegetation, you’re going to have to still come to the department and the Army Corps for a permit."

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Environment & Science
10:29 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Fungus attacks spruce trees in Michigan

A seedling with dead terminal buds due to a Phomopsis canker on the main stem below the dying buds.
MSU Extension

The landscape of Michigan's Lower Peninsula has been changing over the decades. Some of the changes are intentional... some accidental...and some are simply a mystery.

In the 1960's and 70's, Dutch elm disease left tree-lined streets naked.

These last few years saw the Emerald Ash borer leave its trail of destruction across the state. And now Michigan's spruce and pine trees are in decline.

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture and forestry at Michigan State University.

He says one culprit is called Phomopsis. It's a fungus that has been around for a long time. It used to affect just seedlings and smaller trees. But now it's killing larger trees, too. And scientists don't know why.

"Is this an environmental set of conditions? Is there something going on with the pathogen itself? So there's really lots more questions than answers at this point, other than we're seeing a lot of trees starting to decline."

Cregg says the Phomopsis fungus is primarily affecting blue, white and Norway spruce used for landscaping. Those trees are not native to Michigan.

He says it progressively kills branches... and eventually the whole tree.

Cregg says a couple of things can be done. He says if you spot dead branches, you should prune them ... and get rid of lower limbs to help with air circulation.

He also says if you're planting spruce trees... don't group them closely together, because that makes them more vulnerable to fungus.

And if you're not sure what's going on with your tree: call an expert.

"So if you can get a sample into our diagnostics lab, or another tree care provider that knows what they're looking at. If it can be identified as Phomopsis, then there is a possibility of treating with a fungicide."

You might also be noticing branch dieback on pine trees along roadways and in state forests. Cregg says any number of things could be causing that... including a type of blight or insects... or maybe just normal variations in weather affecting tree growth. They just don't know yet.

Environment & Science
1:32 pm
Sun May 27, 2012

Rain helping firefighters control a wildfire in the U.P.

NEWBERRY, Mich. (AP) - Rain is lending a hand to crew members who are battling a wildfire that has consumed 31.6 square miles of forest in the eastern port of Michigan's sparsely populated Upper Peninsula.

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Environment & Science
11:57 am
Sun May 27, 2012

A warning for Michigan fishermen

A fish with viral hemorrhagic septicemia
(photo courtesy of Dr. Mohamed Faisal)

Michigan officials are reminding fishermen -- and women --  that bait restrictions apply in some waters as a way to slow the spread of a viral fish disease.

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Environment & Science
11:49 am
Sun May 27, 2012

Michigan environmentalists to discuss new pollution rules

A representation of a Carbon Dioxide molecule
(courtesy of the Carbonaccount.com)

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Environmental groups that a favor new federal rules regulating carbon emissions are holding a forum to discuss them.

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Environment & Science
1:01 am
Sun May 27, 2012

If you plan on walking in the woods this weekend, watch out for ticks

A Black Legged Tick
(Michael Levin, Centers for Disease Control)

Tens of thousands of Michiganders will spend this holiday weekend camping or just going for a long walk in the woods.   But state health officials are warning that you may come into contact with ticks.

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Environment & Science
9:40 am
Sat May 26, 2012

Wildfires prompt Michigan's governor to declare state of disaster

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R)
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Governor Rick Snyder has declared a state of disaster in the Upper Peninsula counties of Luce and Schoolcraft, where wildfires already have consumed more than 20,000 acres.

Snyder's declaration Friday means all state resources will be made available to protect public health and safety in the ongoing efforts to fight the wildfires.

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energy
6:14 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

NRC Chairman: Palisades needs to work on “the basics of nuclear safety”

Outgoing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (middle) speaks to reporters at a press conference following his tour of the Palisades plant in South Haven.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says operators of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant must improve plant safety.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko shared his thoughts following a three-hour tour of the plant in South Haven Friday.

“There’s really a need to improve on fundamentals. Just some of the basics of nuclear safety really need to be worked on,” Jaczko said. “We’re starting to see some of that happen which is a positive but it needs to be sustained to ultimately get the performance where we’d like to see it."

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Environment & Science
3:57 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Mining resurgence in Michigan's UP gains some national attention

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011. The mine is 25 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

The boom and bust nature of the mining industry is nothing new to residents of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And while recent decades have seen the region's once-prosperous iron and copper mines falling further and further into "bust" territory, the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest from companies hoping to pull valuable ore from this remote part of the state.

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Weather
4:24 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

Wildfire in the U.P. burns 3,200 acres

The wildfire shown at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The fire has burned at least 3,200 acres.
USFWS

SENEY, Mich. (AP) - Officials say a wildfire believed to have been triggered by lightning has expanded to at least 3,200 acres of a wildlife refuge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says crews are working Thursday to control the fire at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. High winds and dry conditions have hampered firefighting efforts.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says the blaze that was estimated at 2,500 acres Wednesday had spread to at least 3,200 acres Thursday.

So far, no injuries or building damage have been reported.

Michigan Highway 28 remains open as aerial control efforts succeed in limiting the spread south of the highway.

The fire started Sunday. The refuge covers 95,000 acres in northern Schoolcraft County, about 85 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie.

Weather
12:24 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

Gale warnings, wildfire alert, and an "Ozone Action Day"

Today's National Weather Service's map shows gale warnings, ozone action days, and wildfire warnings.
NWS

Warm weather, and high winds are stirring up the warnings around Michigan today.

We're expected to have unhealthy air, potential for wildfires, and roiling water in Lake Michigan.

Air pollution

Ground level ozone is expected to be higher in parts of southeast Michigan and western Michigan today. These areas are under an "Ozone Action Day" alert. Here are tips from SEMCOG on what to do on days like today.

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Environment & Science
10:47 am
Thu May 24, 2012

Sport fishing groups want state to stop stocking salmon in Lake Michigan

The Desperado heads out at sunrise to go after Pacific salmon in Lake Michigan.
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

How many salmon can Lake Michigan support?

That’s the critical question state fishery biologists have to answer this year.

Everyone involved in the salmon fishery is worried about its future... and now some sport fishing groups say drastic action might be required. They want the state to stop putting more fish into the lake.

There’s not much food for salmon in Lake Michigan these days because invasive species are changing the food web.

But there are a lot of salmon, because more and more are being born in the wild as opposed to in fish hatcheries. That combination of too many fish and not enough food wiped out the salmon in Lake Huron almost a decade ago and they never returned.

That’s why the state has proposed reducing the number of salmon stocked in Lake Michigan by 30 to 50%.

But last month the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisher’s Association urged lake managers to consider ending all stocking for two years.

Now, a charter boat association in Muskegon has endorsed that idea too.

Paul Jensen is part of that group.

"We need to make a radical move to change the pattern and what we don’t want to do is duplicate what happened on Lake Huron."

But ending stocking might not sit well with some anglers. For decades, more fish stocking meant more fish being caught.

But researchers say the situation is bleak.

The salmon fishing is great so far this spring. But that’s a problem because it means there’s still a lot of fish in a lake without much food.

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