Environment & Science

Environment
2:04 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Michigan man killed by grizzly in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Yellowstone National Park officials say a grizzly bear killed a 59-year-old Michigan man whose body was found by hikers last week.

The victim was identified Monday as John Wallace of Chassell, Mich.

Wallace's body was discovered along a trail about five miles from the nearest trailhead. Results of an autopsy released Monday concluded Wallace died as a result of traumatic injuries from a bear attack.

It is the second time a visitor to the park has been killed by a bear this year.

Environment
9:17 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Water monitoring system in jeopardy

Lack of funds threaten to shut down a monitoring system for southeast Michigan's drinking water.
user william_warby Flickr

A system that monitors the quality of drinking water for 3 million people in southeast Michigan is in danger of being shut down for lack of money.

Monitoring stations are located in Lake Saint Clair, and the Detroit and Saint Clair rivers. Macomb County interim deputy health officer Gary White says federal and state grants, along with local money, have kept the system running since 2007:

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Environment
4:20 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

EPA awards grants for Detroit-area water cleanup

NASA via flickr.com

The US Environmental Protection Agency has awarded more than $2 million in grants to Detroit-area water restoration projects.

These grants will go to four Metro Detroit projects. They include efforts to reduce toxins in the Rouge and Detroit rivers, and to eliminate e. coli sources near Macomb County beaches.

Congressman John Dingell says those projects represent “indispensable investments. But he notes that in a tough fiscal environment, “We’re going to have a difficult time defending” them.

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Environment
3:39 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Feds re-open comment period on gray wolf de-listing

Does this wolf look any different to you? It's an Eastern Wolf; a separate species from the Gray Wolf. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say they're working to set the record straight on where these wolves historically ranged in the U.S.
Christian Jansky wikimedia commons

Last May, the federal government proposed dropping gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region off the endangered species list... again.

The public  comment period on that proposal ended July 5, but now the federal agency in charge of the Endangered Species Act wants to open the comment period back up.

The reason? They want to get their scientific history right.

The federal government historically had the gray wolf ranging in 48 states.

But in all or parts of 29 eastern states there was actually a different wolf species - aptly named the "eastern wolf."

Scientists suspect the gray wolf species did not historically range in these 29 states.

In their proposal to de-list the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes region, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed to revise the range of the gray wolf, and to establish the range of the eastern wolf.

From a USFWS. press release:

the Service received significant comments from states and other stakeholders concerning North American wolf taxonomy. The Service is seeking all information, data, and comments from the public with respect to any new information relevant to the taxonomy of wolves in North America.

So if you want to weigh in on the taxonomic history of gray wolves and eastern wolves, you have 30 days to do so starting tomorrow.

Environment
9:27 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Federal Court says "no" to closing Illinois canal to prevent Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan

A federal appeals panel has rejected a request by five Great Lakes states for an immediate order to close shipping locks on Chicago-area waterways and take other steps to prevent Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan. 

The three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday against the request by Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  The states were appealing a decision by a federal district judge in Chicago last December. 

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Environment and Economy
4:48 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

EPA wants to hire unemployed for Great Lakes clean-up

There are 30 pollution hotspots or "areas of concern" on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes (four of the "areas of concern" are shared with Canada). A new EPA project aimed at employing workers could lead to clean up in some of these areas.
U.S.E.P.A.

The U.S. has suffered from a bad economy for the last three years.

Parts of the Great Lakes have suffered from bad pollution problems for the last several decades.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to put people to work cleaning up pollution in the region.

From an EPA press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work," said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps."

The AP reports that Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the GLRI.

One of the GLRI's main goals is to clean up toxic hot spots known as "Areas of Concern" around the Great Lakes.

These Areas of Concern have been identified for decades, but clean-up efforts have stalled as funding for clean-up has been scarce.

EPA officials say they will award funding for these new clean-up projects by the end of September.

Developing
5:05 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Earthquake reports in the East and Midwest

USGS image showing the location of the earthquake.
USGS

Update 5:05

NPR's Two-Way has some video of the quake striking Washington D.C. You can see security rush the roof of the White House when the quake strikes.

2:48 p.m.

They're calling it a 5.9 magnitude earthquake. The Associated Press reports on the damage near the epicenter:

The quake, the largest in Virginia since May 5, 1897, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, shook buildings and employees were ordered outside across Richmond and other cities in Virginia. Within minutes, Richmond police began receiving calls about possible property damage.

Those calls included a possible stairwell collapse along North First Street downtown, a possible wall collapse along East Broad Street in the city's East End and a possible wall collapse at a structure along Hioaks Road in South Richmond.

2:36 p.m.

NPR's the Two-Way reports on the epicenter:

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake rattled the east coast of the United States, today. The tremor was felt at least as far north as New York and at least as far south as Virginia.

The United States Geological Survey puts the epicenter nine miles south of Mineral, Virginia and happened 6 kilometers deep.

At NPR headquarters in Washington, the building swayed for a few seconds and buildings in the neighborhood were evacuated.

No word yet on how far northwest the quake was felt, but if our Michigan Radio Facebook fans are any gauge, it was felt in the Mitten state.

Fans reported they felt the quake in Birmingham, Battle Creek, Bay City, Sterling Heights, Troy, Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, Ypsilanti, and Grand Rapids.

And one report of "cats going crazy" in Muskegon.

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Environment
1:02 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

How to kill invasive species aboard a Great Lakes freighter

Two of the Indiana Harbor's 10 ballast tanks were treated to kill invasive species. The real-world test was conducted with the cooperation of the American Steamship Company.
James Marvin Phelps Flickr

Invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes by the shipping industry have caused enormous economic and ecological damage. Some estimates put the costs of invasive species in the Great Lakes at billions of dollars annually.

Quagga mussels, round gobies, and spiny waterfleas have spread all over the place in the Great Lakes, disrupting the food chain.

The question is, how do you get rid of these critters that can hide in the nooks and crannies of a ship's ballast tanks?

The critters get in when a ship pumps in ballast water in an overseas port. They hitch a ride across the Atlantic or Pacific and get dumped in U.S. waters.

Today the EPA requires ships to "swish and spit" before entering U.S. ports. That means international ships have to flush out their ballast tanks with salt water from the open ocean before coming in.

It's a sanitizing method that several states and environmental groups say is inadequate, and they're pushing the EPA to do more. But nobody knows what kinds of ballast water treatment systems will work AND will be cost-effective to shipping companies.

The Duluth News Tribune has a story today about an effort that is thought to be the first "major-scale test on the Great Lakes" of a ballast water treatment system.

It's being tested on a 1,000 ft. Great Lakes freighter. Freighters that stay in the Great Lakes don't bring the invasive species in, but they can help spread invasives from port to port around the region.

They Tribune reports the researchers treated 1.8 million gallons of ballast water in the ship with lye - a caustic chemical often used as an industrial cleaning agent. Before the ship reached it's destination port, they neutralized the treated water with carbon dioxide before releasing it.

One of the biggest challenges in combating invasive species in ballast tanks, is how best to sanitize such a large amount of water sitting in the complex maze of a ship's hull:

“The good news is that we were successful in delivering the biocide at this huge level for a 1,000-foot laker, then successfully delivered the neutralizer, all while the Indiana Harbor was on the job,” Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park and the instigator behind the effort, told the News Tribune.

The Tribune reports that research into the real-world test is ongoing. Water samples from the ballast tanks will show whether the lye killed organisms "and whether the treated water was then successfully neutralized to prevent environmental harm."

Results of these tests should be available next month, the paper reports.

Environment
5:17 pm
Sun August 21, 2011

Ag secretary hopes Michigan visit will fuel ethanol interest

Sec. Vilsak says tests have shown that fuel that's 15 percent ethanol, which is often made from corn, is safe for use in vehicles from model years 2001 and later. Critics, including the Detroit Three, disagree.
Adventure George flickr

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was in Michigan today to promote the use of biofuels. He appeared at the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, south of Jackson.

Vilsack says the fact that NASCAR vehicles are now running on fuel that’s 15 percent ethanol shows that other cars should run on it, too. He says biofuels are more environmentally responsible that petroleum-based fuel.

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Environment
11:50 am
Fri August 19, 2011

State's submerged oil report called "premature"

Sediment is collected at a "sediment trap" on Talmadge Creek. (6/18/2011)
EPA Region 5

The Michigan Department of Community Health's report on the submerged oil is being called "premature" by the National Wildlife Federation.

In its report, MDCH officials declared that "contact with sediment containing submerged oil will not result in long-term health effects." Some sediments in the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek became contaminated with heavy tar sands oil after the Enbridge pipeline break.

In the Kalamazoo Gazette, National Wildlife Federation Senior Scientist Doug Inkley said the agency should have done more research before making such a statement:

“It’s a premature conclusion based on incomplete results,” Inkley said. “The jury is still out.”

Inkley said his biggest concern about the study is that eight chemicals found in the submerged oil were not included in the conclusion.

A toxicologist at MDCH told the Gazette that some of the chemicals weren't tested because the submerged oil didn't have enough concentrations of the chemicals to warrant testing, and because "some of the chemicals were actually groups of chemicals, some of which had already been individually tested in the study."

Commentary
11:03 am
Fri August 19, 2011

Tourism’s Bright Spot

Nobody needs me to tell them that this has been a rough decade for Michigan’s economy. The roughest since the Great Depression of the nineteen-thirties.

And, as the stock market plunge indicates, a return to the prosperity we used to take for granted is nowhere in sight.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few bright spots, and one of the brightest has been tourism. A few weeks ago, I spent an hour with George Zimmerman, who runs Travel Michigan the official state tourism promotion agency.

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Environment
4:33 pm
Thu August 18, 2011

State agency says submerged oil in Kalamazoo River not a health threat

Recovery of submerged oil on Morrow Lake. (6/25/2011)
EPA Region 5

The Michigan Department of Community Health released the report this afternoon.

In a press release agency officials say:

The MDCH has concluded that contact with the submerged oil will not cause people to have long-term health effects or have a higher than normal risk of cancer. Although long-term health effects will not result from contact with the submerged oil, contact with the oil may cause short-term effects, such as skin irritation.

The stretch of river addressed in the report runs from Talmadge Creek to Morrow Lake.

MDCH officials point out that their assessment "only discusses direct contact with the submerged oil. It does not evaluate breathing in chemicals from the remaining oil or any public safety concerns posed by the on-going cleanup of oil in the river."

In the report, the MDCH explained how they reached their conclusion of no long term health effects from contact with the submerged oil:

Non-cancer risk (hazard quotient) was calculated for the chemicals measured in the sediment. If the non-cancer risk (hazard quotient) values are less than 1.0, people are not expected to have long-term health effects from exposure to the chemicals. All risk values were lower than 1.0.

The state agency says their assessment does not change current restrictions regarding use of the river from the the Calhoun County Public Health Department and the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department.

Environment
10:39 am
Thu August 18, 2011

"River Gypsies" studying three large Michigan rivers

Dr. Emma J. Rosi-Marshall and technician Dustin Kincaid from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies introduce a mix of nutrients into the Manistee River, so they can track how the river processes the nutrients.
Photo by Tom Kramer

This summer, a group of scientists are studying five large rivers in the Midwest… including the St. Joseph, the Muskegon and the Manistee rivers in Michigan. It’s part of a three year study of how large rivers process fertilizers – and how things like farming and wastewater affect the rivers.

Tom Kramer spent some time with this group that calls themselves “The River Gypsies” - here's his story:

The forecast says there is a 50/50 chance of thunderstorms, but the River Gypsies can’t slow down for a little rain.

This group of 13 scientists, PhDs, grad students and undergrads has had three weeks to study five rivers in two states – packing up and moving to a new campground every three or four days. Picnic tables have become temporary laboratories.

Jennifer Tank, a professor at Notre Dame, says one of her students wasn’t all that prepared for this nomadic lifestyle.

“Now he did bring a Samsonite suitcase that weighs about 100 pounds into the field with him, but I know that next year he’ll have a great dry bag… so he’s learning as he goes along.”

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Environment
9:26 am
Thu August 18, 2011

3 adults, 6 kids rescued from Partridge Island

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - Authorities rescued three adults and six children from Partridge Island in Lake Superior who had been on the water in a 12-foot boat.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the boat was "beset by weather" on Wednesday afternoon and they got a call for help via cell phone.

A crew from Coast Guard Station Marquette and rescuers from the Marquette County sheriff's department responded. A Coast Guard rescuer swam to the beach and helped the nine onto a sheriff's
department boat, and they were transferred to the Coast Guard boat.

No injuries were reported. All nine were transported to Coast Guard Station Marquette.

Environment
9:26 pm
Wed August 17, 2011

Kalamazoo River oil spill update: A lot of work accomplished, but still more to do

Dozens of people turned out for last night's EPA public meeting on the Kalamazoo River oil spill in Marshall
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Dozens of people who turned out for a public hearing in Marshall on the cleanup of last Summer’ s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River left without hearing the news they wanted to hear….that the river will soon reopen.  

More than 766 thousand gallons of crude oil have been recovered during  the past twelve months.   But there are still large deposits of  submerged oil in three different parts of the river.

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Environment
1:05 pm
Wed August 17, 2011

Sleeping Bear Dunes voted "most beautiful place in America"

Sleeping Bear Dunes was voted "The Most Beautiful Place in America" on ABC's Good Morning America.
Danielle Lynch Flickr

This morning, ABC's Good Morning America revealed the winner of their "Most Beautiful Place in America" contest.

For reasons we all know, Sleeping Bear Dunes won.

You can see the video on ABC's website.

Here are the places Sleeping Bear Dunes finished ahead of:

ABC says Jim Madole of Grand Rapids nominated Sleeping Bear Dunes saying:

"It is peaceful and serene, a place for gazing out into the world, night or day, and realizing that the universe is truly a magical, majestic mystery, and humans are just a very small part of it all," he wrote in his submission. "Here at Sleeping Bear, I sit in awe and wonder at the perfection of Mother Nature."

Environment
12:50 pm
Wed August 17, 2011

Special inspection underway at nuclear power plant in Michigan

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant sits close to the Lake Michigan shoreline near South Haven.
Excelon Nuclear

A team of experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is inspecting the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in southwest Michigan. There are no safety concerns and everything is now working properly at the plant.

Last week, a coupling that attaches to a water pump failed. The water pump is one of three at the plant that cool safety equipment. The part was replaced and the pump is back in service. The same water pump had a coupling fail in 2009.

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Environment
8:01 pm
Tue August 16, 2011

Planning underway for another cleanup of the Tittabawassee River

Few people turned out for a public hearing on the cleanup plan last night in Saginaw.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A major cleanup project along the Tittabawassee River is moving into its final planning stages. It’s a project that presents several challenges.   

Dioxin contamination has been the subject of many cleanup projects in the Tittabawassee River. This new project will focus on other dangerous chemicals, like arsenic, dumped into the river in the past.

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Environment
4:30 pm
Tue August 16, 2011

Victory for Lake Erie watersnakes

Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs gets chomped on by a Lake Erie watersnake. The snakes were removed from the Endangered Species List by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
screen grab from YouTube video

What do a Lake Erie watersnake, a bald eagle, and an American alligator have in common?

They've all rebounded from the threat of extinction and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The only place these snakes are found in the world is on the western edge of Lake Erie in Canada and Ohio.

The snakes were listed as threatened in 1999 because of habitat loss and because humans often killed them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the tide has turned for the watersnake. The Service published a rule in the Federal Register today delisting the species. From a USFWS press release:

Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat.

Through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie watersnake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed.

Back in 2005, reporter Rebecca Williams traveled down to the islands in Lake Erie to witness researchers taking their annual snake census - aka "Nerodeo" - "that’s Nerodia, the snake’s scientific name, and rodeo, as in cowboy roundup.":

The snake biologists don’t just look under rocks. They dive into the lake for snakes. They sneak up on piles of snakes and then grab the whole writhing mass.

The snakes bite. The researchers' arms are covered in snakebites. The bites aren't life threatening, but they're really, really bloody. And then it comes to the job at hand. The biologists are going to force the snakes' stomach contents out. They call it "barfing the snakes."

And what were they barfing up? Mostly round gobies - an invasive species. So here is a case where native species are taking a bite out of an invasive species' population.

The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe did an episode on the job of a Lake Erie watersnake researcher in 2006 (the snakes poop, pee, bite, and release a musky smell when they're caught).

You can watch Rowe drop to his knees and get chomped on by a Lake Erie watersnake at about 6:20 in this video:

The snakes are still listed as endangered by the state of Ohio, so killing them is still illegal under state law... no matter how much they bite you.

Environment
10:28 am
Tue August 16, 2011

Deconstructing Detroit

This 1930's bungalow in Southwest Detroit is being deconstructed. But first, the team has to clear the home of everything inside.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

Nearly a quarter of the homes in Detroit are empty. That’s more than 79,000 vacant homes, according to the last Census.

Of those, Mayor Dave Bing’s office considers 12,000 to be dangerous. They’re burned out, or falling apart. They attract squatters and drug dealers. So the city is paying contractors to demolish them.

But another group of people says some of these homes don’t have to be demolished. They can be taken apart board by board... and the materials can be salvaged.

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