Environment & Science

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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Environment
2:26 pm
Mon August 15, 2011

A settlement reached for part of River Rouge cleanup

An aerial view of the Ford River Rouge plant near Dearborn, Michigan, circa 1927.
Library of Congress

The U.S. government has agreed to pay $10.8 million for part of a cleanup at the River Rouge complex in Dearborn.

From the Detroit News:

The Dearborn automaker filed suit in May 2004 against the federal government in U.S. District Court in Detroit, arguing the government should pay a share of the costs of cleaning up the automaker's Rouge manufacturing complex that opened in 1917 stemming from military production from World War I.

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Environment
2:55 pm
Sun August 14, 2011

Michigan State leading multistate freshwater study

Turtles on the Fort Gratiot Nature Trail, MI
Flickr user mdprovost

A Michigan State University scientist is leading a team of researchers to study how lakes, streams and wetlands are connected to their surroundings.

Associate professor of fisheries and wildlife Patricia Soranno is using a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant to examine land use and climate change's effect on freshwater ecosystems.

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Environment
2:37 pm
Fri August 12, 2011

Lake Michigan receives 'C' grade on new report card

Kevin Dooley Flickr

Lake Michigan gets an overall ‘C’ grade on a new report card from the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. Beach water quality and lake water levels got ‘D’ grades, scoring lowest on the report card. Superfund cleanup efforts got a ‘B’ and the fight against invasive species like Asian carp got a ‘C.’

Matt Doss is with the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission. He says the poor grades will help the state.

“It’s going to help hold us all accountable for improving these grades moving forward,” he said. “We can do better and we need to do better.”

The Great Lakes Commission works to improve the health of all five Great Lakes.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
2:07 pm
Fri August 12, 2011

Mosquitos gone wild: It's extra bad out there

Michael Kaufman Michigan State University

It’s not your imagination: The mosquitos are really bad in Michigan right now, and they’re not going away anytime soon.

It’s been a hot summer, with lots of rain, some dry spells in between, then lots more rain.

Perfect, if you’re a mosquito.

Mike Kaufman is a Michigan State University entomologist. He says not only do we have our usual crop of mosquitos, we’ve got psorophora ciliata, a big mosquito with a big bite. It’s native to Michigan, but fairly rare.

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Environment
1:30 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

No Asian carp found in search of Illinois lake

Bighead Asian carp caught in Lake Calumet last year
(courtesy of the Illins Department of Natural Resources)

State and federal wildlife officials say their latest search has turned up no Asian carp swimming in an Illinois lake close to Lake Michigan, though they admit they can’t say there are no carp in the lake. 

“We’re saying if there are fish there…they’re there in very low abundances," says Kevin Irons,  the head of the state of Illinois’ office of Nuisance Aquatic Life.   He says no Asian carp were found during a recent four day search of Lake Calumet.   Carp DNA was found in the lake recently.  

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Environment
10:26 am
Thu August 11, 2011

White House issues first ever fuel economy standards for biggest trucks

Medium and heavy duty trucks built in 2014 through 2018 will have to meet new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.
Photo courtesy of EPA

When you’re on the highway, you see all those big 18-wheelers... the cement trucks and trucks hauling logs... the refrigerated trucks heading to the grocery store... pretty soon, all these kinds of trucks will be seeing some changes.

David Friedman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says these trucks are cleaner than they used to be.

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Environment
10:08 am
Tue August 9, 2011

MSU researchers testing beef tracking from pasture to plate

Beef from the cattle on this 350 acre farm on MSU's campus will be served in the cafeterias at MSU in the fall.
Photo by Emily Fox

Local food is the hottest thing on menus this year. That’s according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association. Michigan State University researchers are trying to give consumers more information about locally grown food.

Some say local is the new green. Here's how two characters in the show Portandia portray the local food movement in America:

Waitress: “My name is Dana, I’ll be taking care of you today if you have any questions about the menu, please let me know.”

Woman: “I guess I do have a question about the chicken. If you could just tell us a little more about it.”

Waitress: “Uh, the chicken is a heritage breed, woodland raised chicken that’s been fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy and hazelnuts. . .”

Man: “This is local?”

Waitress: “Yes. Absolutely.”

Man: “I’m going to ask you one more time. And it’s local?”

Waitress: “It is.”

Woman: “Is that USDA organic, Oregon organic or Portland organic?”

Waitress: “It’s just all across the board. Organic.”

FOX: Okay, so not every restaurant is like the one featured in this sitcom. But researchers at Michigan State University say people do want more information about their food. They're starting a pilot program to do just that with local beef.

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Environment
10:00 am
Tue August 9, 2011

Company unveils new wind turbine plant

Jeff Kubina / flickr

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, is in Michigan today. She’s visiting for a ribbon cutting at Ventower Industries in Monroe. It’s a company that will be making towers for wind turbines.

The Monroe facility will serve as Ventower's main U.S. operation.

35 employees will start work this week, and as many as 300 could eventually work there.

Scott Viciana is the company’s vice president. He says the plant is built on the site of a former industrial landfill.  So first, they had to clean up the land.

“We stumbled across less (sic) concerns in the end than we thought potentially we could.”

Ventower got state and federal tax credits to clean up the brownfield site.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says that makes it a double win for the environment.

"What we see here today is a return to use. A return to use for a site that will preserve green space, but also support a clean energy economy."

Ventower officials say the Monroe site is ideal because it can ship parts by road, rail, and a Great Lakes port.

Education
6:00 am
Mon August 8, 2011

Oakland University opens new medical school

Michigan faces a physician shortage by 2020
user clarita morguefile

Classes start today at the new, privately funded Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in southeast Michigan. It's the first of three new medical schools expected to come online in the next few years.

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