Environment & Science

Food
3:03 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Feds win lawsuit over drugs in Michigan cows

HAMILTON, Mich. (AP) - A judge says a western Michigan farm violated federal law by selling cows for slaughter with illegal levels of antibiotics.

Judge Gordon Quist ruled in favor of regulators who say Scenic View Dairy in Allegan County repeatedly ignored warnings about selling the cows for human consumption.

Quist didn't order a penalty last week and says he doesn't want to put Scenic View out of business. The judge told the farm and the government to come up with an agreement by the end of September.

Scenic View's primary business is milk but about 70 cows a week are sent to slaughter for human consumption. The farm claims there are exceptions to the government's drug rules. But the judge says
they don't fit.

Environment
11:11 am
Tue September 6, 2011

Lead exposure affects kids' motor development

New research from the University of Michigan reinforces why it’s important to keep kids from being exposed to lead.

It’s long been known that relatively high blood lead levels can negatively affect children’s IQ.

This study finds it can also affect a child’s motor skills.

Dr. Howard Hu, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, studied children between the ages of three and seven in Chennai, India. Half the children studied had relatively high levels of lead in their blood. Those children tested significantly lower on motor skill tests… like using peg boards and copying pictures… than children with far less exposure to lead.

Dr. Hu says the Indian children’s blood lead levels are about two to three times that of American children. Lead is still a problem in Michigan, with children still being exposed to aging lead paint in homes, lead in pipes, and lead contamination in soil.

Environment
10:57 am
Tue September 6, 2011

Study: Phthalates affect child development

The federal government has banned certain types of phthalates in children's products, but the chemicals are still in many other products including cars, flooring, shower curtains, cosmetics, shampoos and lotions.
Source: Toniht at Wikimedia Commons

Phthalates are a class of chemicals that have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system. They’re used in all kinds of consumer products including flooring, cars and cosmetics.

A new study published today finds a significant link between pregnant women’s exposure to phthalates and negative impacts on their children’s development.

Robin Whyatt is a professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and she’s the lead author of the study. She and her team have an ongoing study of more than 700 mothers and their children that began in 1998.

For this particular study, they looked at about half of those mother-child pairs. They measured phthalate levels in the mothers’ urine and compared those levels to several developmental tests on their children, who are now three years old.

“As levels in the mothers' urine went up, the child’s motor development went down significantly.”

She says the types of phthalates they studied appear to affect the babies’ brain development while they’re still in utero.

“Three of the phthalates were significantly associated with behavioral disorders, or behavioral problems: anxious, depressed behaviors, emotionally reactive behaviors, withdrawn behavior.”

Whyatt says they controlled for a long list of factors. They looked at tobacco smoke, lead, pesticides, and other toxic substances.

“We controlled for race and ethnicity, gestational age. We looked at marital status, we looked at a number of different indicators of poverty and also how much hardship a woman was going through.”

And she says still, there was a significant link between the mothers’ phthalate levels and their children’s development.

“Our findings are concerning because saw a two to three fold increase in the odds that the child would have motor delays and or behavioral problems.”

But she says more research is needed. And parents should keep in mind that any individual child’s risk is low.

Read more
Environment
10:31 am
Fri September 2, 2011

State officials warn of fire danger ahead of Labor Day weekend

The Meridian Wildfire near Grayling, Michigan in 2010. The fire damaged and destroyed homes. It was started by one person who lost control of their burn pile.
Fire Officer Randy McKenzie MIDNR

Want to roast some marshmallows this weekend? 

Natural resource officials in the state have a message for you - "with the romance, comes responsibility":

The Associated Press reports that campfires account for about one in 10 wildfires. From the AP:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says warm summer temperatures and a lack of rain have combined to make the risk of wildfires especially high.

The agency says the highest risk is in the western half of the Upper Peninsula and in the central counties of northern lower Michigan, areas that are especially dry.

There's only a slight chance of rain over the weekend to lessen the danger.

The DNR recommends taking precautions to keep campfires under control and extinguishing them by dousing them with water before leaving.

Environment
6:51 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Health concerns lingering after Kalamazoo River oil spill

It’s been more than a year since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured... spilling more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. The cleanup continues. And people who live near the river say they’re worried about what they might have been exposed to when the spill happened... and what they might still be getting exposed to.

The majority of the oil has been cleaned up, but there are still significant amounts of submerged oil on the bottom of the river.

The Michigan Department of Community Health recently put out a report on the risks of contact with that submerged oil.

Jennifer Gray is with the MDCH.

“We concluded that in terms of long term health issues, so health issues that would stay with you after the contact was done, or things like developing cancer, that contact with the chemicals in the submerged oil wouldn’t really cause these kinds of effects.”

She says people could have short term health effects from contact with the oil - things such as skin irritation.

The assessment did not include any health risks from breathing in chemicals from the remaining oil. Jennifer Gray says her agency is currently evaluating air monitoring data from the early days of the spill... and says they’re continuing to look at other ways people might be exposed to the oil that remains.

The areas of the Kalamazoo River that were affected by the spill are still closed for recreation.

People who live near the spill site want local officials to conduct a long-term health study.

Riki Ott is a marine toxicologist from Alaska. She’s spent the past two decades charting health problems from people who live near the site of the Exxon Valdez spill and last year’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She’s in Battle Creek this week to talk with people affected by the Kalamazoo River spill.

“I could have zipped back in time and it would be the same things as Exxon Valdez residents and workers, the same thing I’ve heard in the Gulf for a full year and here now. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, rashes, these things are not going away. People want answers.”

Ott says it’s too early to rule out the potential of long term health effects from the Kalamazoo River oil spill.

“If the state is acknowledging there could be short term health effects, then that means there could also be long term health effects.”

The Calhoun County Health Department has petitioned the federal government for a long term health study on residents.

Environment
6:13 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Foes make final try to block UP mine

Opponents of a planned nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are making a final legal appeal to halt initial blasting at the site.

Four organizations have filed a motion in Ingham County Circuit Court for a stay of mining permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality. A judge with the court is considering an appeal of the DEQ's decision to grant the permits.

The Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve say the mine jeopardizes water and air quality in the forestland of western Marquette County. They say extracting minerals at the site could pollute ground and surface waters with sulfuric acid.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals says the project can be carried out while safeguarding the environment.

Environment
5:41 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Dingell hosts panel on "vanishing" hunting and fishing opportunities

John Dingell

Michigan Congressman John Dingell hosted a panel about the shrinking hunting and fishing opportunities in the state.

Dingell says conserving places to hunt and fish are keys to Michigan’s quality of life.

And he says hunters and anglers are good people to ask about how those places are impacted by climate change and other threats to the Great Lakes, because, “Sportsmen are really one of the first lines of defense for the protection of our environment.”

Dingell says he’s also working on building up protected natural areas in southeast Michigan.

Read more
Environment
4:37 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Coal regulations could reshape Midwest energy

The W.C. Beckjord Station along the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Duke Energy says it plans to close the coal burning power plant in 2015 because updating the plant to meet new environmental regulations would be too costly.
courtesy of Duke Energy

The Midwest relies so heavily on one source of power that some call us the "coal belt."

Coal is cheap and plentiful, but that’s about to change.

A wave of government regulations is about to hit the electric industry.

Ed Malley, a Vice President at industry consulting firm, TRC Corporation has a name for all the new rules coming down the track: “The train wreck.”

That "train wreck" is the list of environmental regulations expected to be in place within the next few years.

Electric utilities say this will mean the shutting of power plants, leading to higher prices and less peak capacity for hot summer days. Environmentalists say: about time.

Read more
Environment
3:50 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Help wanted: Great Lakes cleanup

The federal government says it will spend six million dollars to hire jobless workers for Great Lakes cleanup projects.

Conservation groups often make the claim that environmental cleanup and restoration efforts are good for the economy.

Andy Buchsbaum works for one of those groups. He heads the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation, which lobbied aggressively for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The federal government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the initiative. It includes projects like toxic pollution cleanup, restoring wildlife habitat, and fighting invasive species.

Buchsbaum says projects like those will need lots of engineers, landscapers and construction workers.

“They’re the people who actually move the dirt, move things around, constructing sewage facilities, cleaning up contaminated sediment. All those activities have a variety of direct jobs associated with them.”

Buchsbaum says there are also indirect jobs created when those people start spending money on things like groceries and rent.

The Environmental Protection Agency is likening the hiring initiative to the Civilian Conservation Corps – the New Deal program that put single, unemployed men to work doing manual labor.

Environment
12:14 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

Swimming Upstream: A documentary from The Environment Report

Photo by Lester Graham

We've been spending the past couple months going on fishing trips, and talking to people who fish for fun and for a living... to bring you stories about everything you never knew you wanted to know about fish and fishing in the Great Lakes.

Today, you can hear the result of our effort in a special one-hour documentary we're calling Swimming Upstream.

We'll tag along on a salmon fishing trip with Lester Graham, go on an Asian carp rodeo on the Illinois River, meet commercial fishers (both tribal and non-tribal), and go fishing with Dustin Dwyer as he gets into the mind of a fish.

We think of the Lakes today as a great place to play on the beach, to swim, to go fishing. But those huge, beautiful lakes are changing.

The changes are happening so fast that the agencies which manage fishing cannot keep up with them.

On average, a new foreign species gets into the Lakes every seven months. Each could be a threat to the lakes and the fish in the lakes. We explore the health and future of the Great Lakes, and hear stories about fish and the people who catch them.

Listen to it here:

Or tune in today at 1pm and 8pm on Michigan Radio to hear Swimming Upstream and let us know what you think.

Find out more about fish consumption advisories: in Michigan,  in Ohio, in Wisconsin, in New York, and in Illinois.

Asian Carp
6:29 am
Wed August 31, 2011

Attorneys General urge Great Lakes, Mississippi split

Attorneys general in some Great Lakes states want to cut an artificial link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds that provides a pathway for invasive species, including Asian carp.
Kate.Gardner Flickr

Attorneys general in the Great Lakes region want a multi-state campaign to cut an artificial link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds that provides a pathway for invasive species.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the attorneys general invite their counterparts in 27 other states to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for quicker action.

The Corps is studying whether to separate the drainage basins in the Chicago area, where they were joined more than a century ago by construction of a canal. Zebra and quagga mussels have used the waterway to invade states farther south, and the Asian carp is threatening to migrate into the Great Lakes.

The Corps report is due in 2015. The letter demands a faster timetable.

Environment
11:38 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Simple business model connects chefs to locally grown food

At the meet-up, Barbara Jenness shares some new cheese from her Dancing Goat Creamery.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan farmers grow the most diverse crops of any state besides California. Agriculture is Michigan’s 2nd largest industry and it’s growing. But many Michigan farms aren’t big enough to distribute through grocery stores.

Read more
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:

Read more
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.

Read more
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. 

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

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