Environment & Science

Environment
3:48 pm
Fri May 13, 2011

Detroit gardeners frustrated by new rules for city lots

Tony Buser flickr

Community gardeners in Detroit are angry about new permit requirements for gardening on city-owned lots.

Reit Schumack heads an organization on the city’s west side called Neighbors Building Brightmoor, which puts in gardens, wildflower stands and pocket parks on dozens of city lots. Schumack says the new rules include a ban on bringing in new soil or compost, unless the city grants lot-by-lot permission:

Read more
Environment
8:39 am
Fri May 13, 2011

St. Clair Co. officials expand look into cancers

MARINE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Public health officials in St. Clair County are expanding their investigation into whether environmental or other factors could be responsible for a rare form of kidney cancer diagnosed in children in the Marine City area.

The investigation started this year looking into five cases of Wilms' tumor since 2007 in southeastern St. Clair County. The Times Herald of Port Huron reported Thursday that eight cases now are included, including two in the Port Huron area and one in Richmond.

Officials say another case in the St. Clair Shores area isn't being considered because it's too far away.

Marine City, which is located about 40 miles northeast of Detroit, has industrial plants and is about 10 miles from petrochemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario. But health officials say there's no established link.

Environment
7:07 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Enbridge: Replacing 75 miles of Ind., Mich. pipe

Enbridge Inc. says it will spend $286 million to replace 75 miles of pipeline in Indiana and Michigan after a 2010 break that spilled at least 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River system.

The Houston-based company said Thursday the work is planned next year on the pipeline, which runs from Griffin, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

The company says it's already replaced 14 segments covering 1.7 miles in southeastern Michigan and has installed a new line under the St. Clair River.

The new work includes five miles of pipeline downstream from each of two pump stations in Indiana and three in Michigan, as well as 50 miles of pipeline downstream from the Stockbridge station and terminal, about 55 miles west of Detroit.

Environment
4:22 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Environmental groups take state to court for allowing Holland coal plant expansion

The DeYoung power plant sits on the shore of Lake Macatawa in the City of Holland.
Holland Board of Public Works.

The legal battle over a proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Holland is not over yet. The State of Michigan granted the city the necessary air quality permit in February, following years of delays. But now a number of environmental groups are teaming up and bringing the issue back to court.

Read more
Environment
10:53 am
Thu May 12, 2011

A majority of Michigan's schools are in areas with high air pollution levels

A new University of Michigan study in the journal Health Affairs finds 62% of public schools in the state are located in places with high levels of air pollution from industries.

Paul Mohai is one of the study’s authors.

“Often schools are located in more polluted parts of their respective school districts.”

He says schools need a lot of land... and land is expensive but money is tight.

“There’s probably quite an economic pressure to put schools where land values are low, and those may be near highways or industrial facilities or that otherwise are polluted.”

Mohai says Michigan has no formal policy that requires school boards to consider the environmental quality of an area for a new school.

William Mayes is the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He says school boards do consider pollution when they’re finding new sites for schools.

“You know, intelligent people are thinking about this. The bottom line is you look at where your community is expanding, where your community is growing, and you seek the most economical and safe property you can to build a school.”

Mayes says people are drawn to where the jobs are, and that’s often near industries, and industries pollute.

Environment
10:41 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Farmers want to take land out of conservation to grow more corn

As part of the Conservation Reserve Program, farmers are paid to put in grassy strips to act as buffer zones along waterways. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Leaders in Michigan’s farm community are urging Senator Debbie Stabenow and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the rules for a land conservation program on farms. They say the current program could lead to higher food prices.

Read more
Environment
12:49 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Grand Rapids teams up with Red Cross to help flooding, tornado victims in the South

CEO of The American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids Cheryl Bremer joins Mayor George Heartwell in asking residents to support relief efforts.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The city of Grand Rapids is joining efforts to help victims of major flooding and deadly tornados in the Southern United States.

Mayor George Heartwell urged people to give whatever they’re able to afford.

 “I feel so strongly that the suffering of any people anywhere needs to be our suffering. As long as there are people in need and we have the ability and the capacity to help address that need, it’s critical for us to do that.”

Read more
Environment
1:51 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Detroiters talk land use and the environment

Greening of Detroit

Detroiters who want a say in how the city manages its land gathered for an environmental summit last week.

Activists and community leaders organized the summit so citizens could provide input on environmental aspects of the Detroit Works Project, an ongoing project to deal with the city’s huge swaths of vacant land.

Jackie Victor lives and owns a small business in Detroit.

She says city planners need to look at Detroit’s land and natural resources as assets rather than liabilities.

Read more
Environment
1:17 pm
Sun May 8, 2011

Flint "karate farmers" win award

Karate, farming, and conservation go hand in hand, at Flint's King Karate
Flickr user JadeXJustice

Two black belts have combined karate and urban farming, in a push to revitalize a Flint-area neighborhood, and they’ve just won the Small Farmer of the Year award for Michigan.

The award goes to husband and wife, Jacky and Dora King. They run the King  Karate school and the Harvesting Earth Educational Farm.

On their website, the King's say they employ local youth to help out on the farm.

"We have had students who did not know that potatoes grow in the ground, but thought instead they grew in trees!"

The Flint Journal reports the couple beat out farmers in Isabella and Ionia counties for the award.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the award recognizes farmers based on their conservation efforts, such as preventing erosion and water contamination, and community involvement. The farm also has been nominated for the national Lloyd Wright Small Black Farmer Award.

Read more
Environment
11:53 am
Sat May 7, 2011

Wait... what's that? Could it be... spring?

Spring finally arrived in terms we could understand this week.
user thebridge Michigan Radio

We’ve been waiting and waiting for spring to arrive, some of us less patiently than others.  April was a soggy, cold month; we even got a little snow dumped on us as Old Man Winter delivered his final hurrah.

The National Weather Service tells us not to expect miracles in May, either, and lays the blame firmly at the feet of La Nina. That’s El Nino’s little sister, which visits us periodically to unleash some nasty storms to our south and keep things chilly and clammy up here.

But in defiance of all that, spring did arrive in the last few days, in full regalia.

Read more
Environment
1:20 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Parts of Kalamazoo River may reopen for recreation

View from I-94 of clean up efforts from last year's oil spill.
Photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Summer recreation may return to parts of the Kalamazoo River. Michigan health officials are studying the effects of an oil spill last summer. The spill dumped more than 800-thousand gallons into the river near Marshall.  If reports are positive, the no-contact order on areas of the Kalamazoo River may be lifted. The order banned swimming, boating and fishing.

Read more
Environment
10:56 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Study: flame retardant chemicals affect development in frogs

Flame retardant chemicals help keep foam and plastics from catching on fire. They’re called PBDEs. That stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

They’re in our couches, our office chairs and the padding under our carpet.

The problem is... they don’t stay put. Scientists have known for a while that the chemicals leach out of products and get into our bodies. Americans have the highest levels of anyone in the world.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies are suggesting links to problems with brain development, changes to thyroid systems, and fertility problems.

Read more
Environment
10:49 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Aircraft chemical found in Great Lakes fish

Researchers from Environment Canada found a chemical used in aircraft fluids in lake trout in the Great Lakes.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

New research finds that fish in the Great Lakes are contaminated with a chemical used in aircraft hydraulic fluids.

Researcher Amila DeSilva works for Environment Canada, which is like the EPA in the U.S.

She says there have been studies on a number of perflourinated chemicals. They’re used to make textiles, upholstery, paper, and many other things. Studies have shown these types of chemicals can have toxic effects in humans. But not much is known about a chemical called perfluoroethylcyclohexanesulfonate - or PFECHS for short.

DeSilva says no one has really studied whether it's toxic.

She wanted to see if PFECHS was in the environment, so she and her colleagues sampled water and fish in the Great Lakes, specifically lake trout and walleye:

“We were really, really surprised to find it in fish. Because, just based on the structure and our chemical intuition we thought, ‘okay, it would be more likely to be in water than in fish’ so when we found it in fish, when you find anything in fish, it’s a whole other ballgame because humans consume fish.”

DeSilva says other perflourinated acids are endocrine disruptors. That means they create hormone imbalances in humans, and they have other toxic effects. She says once these chemicals are released into the environment they don’t degrade, they just build up. That’s why use of some chemicals in this class is highly restricted in the U.S. and Canada.

Read more
Environment
5:16 pm
Wed May 4, 2011

Feds want states to manage wolves around the Great Lakes

The federal government wants to turn management of gray wolves in the western Great Lakes over to the states.
USFWS

The U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it plans to remove the western Great Lakes gray wolf population from the Endangered Species list.

These are wolves found in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and areas adjoining these states.

Acting Service Director Rowan Gould was quoted in today's press release:

“Gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes are recovered and no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under this proposed rule, which takes into account the latest taxonomic information about the species, we will return management of gray wolves in the Great Lakes to state wildlife professionals. We are confident that wolves will continue to thrive under the approved state management plans.”

There will be a sixty-day comment period before the rule is finalized.

Mary Detloff, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says the state supports the decision and is ready to take over management of the species:

"The most recent estimate that we have of the minimum winter population for wolves in Michigan is around 687 animals which far exceeds our recovery goal here in the state. Our recovery goal was around 200-300 wolves."

Detloff says delisting the wolf would allow the state to deal with problem wolves.

Read more
Environment
2:04 pm
Wed May 4, 2011

Forecast: A cool, rainy May

The National Weather Service says May in Michigan will be a cold, damp month.
emilydryden.wordpress.com

There’s good news for people who enjoy cold, damp weather.  For the rest of you,  don’t put away your sweaters just yet. 

Remember how it snowed in early December and just kept on snowing – for months?

Remember how the calendar said spring had arrived, but we just got more snow -- and then lots of cold, rainy days?

Rich Pollman is with the National Weather Service in Detroit. He says things probably won’t improve much in May.

Read more
Environment
11:06 am
Tue May 3, 2011

It's not so easy to get rid of that potato fork

A driver opens up one of the 20-foot high compost piles at Tuthill Farms. He'll add the new compostable waste to the hot core of the pile, then cover it back up.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

Have you ever seen those plastic forks or spoons made from corn or potatoes? It’s a big trend right now.

They’re compostable. So in theory... this tableware breaks down into a dark, rich material that’s really good for gardening.

So you get the convenience of disposable plastic... without adding to the big pile of plastic trash.

But here’s where things get tricky.

Liz Shoch is with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. She's working with companies to rethink the way they package their products.

“One of the things we say a lot currently is there is no sustainable package and that goes for compostable packaging too. There’s always tradeoffs.”

Read more
Environment
10:53 am
Tue May 3, 2011

Money for Great Lakes restoration

The federal budget left many groups wanting more money, but those lobbying to restore Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are actually pretty pleased with the President and Congress.

Andy Buchsbaum co-chairs a group that’s trying to get enough funding over five years to restore the Great Lakes. He says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative didn’t get all the money it wanted in the 2011 federal budget. But Buchsbaum says given the tight economic times, the $300 million they did get will keep the program on track.

“The Great Lakes did remarkably well this year in the federal budget, and the people in this region will benefit from it.”

In Michigan, Buchsbaum says the money is being used to restore wetlands. It’s also being used to get rid of toxic hot spots, such as the so-called black lagoon in the Detroit River area. And it’s being used to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.

Buchsbaum says both parties supported Great Lakes restoration because of the economic benefits, and everyone wants their children to be able to swim at the beaches and drink the water.

-Julie Grant for The Environment Report

Environment
11:02 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Sugar companies sue over "high fructose corn syrup" rebranding

Sugar companies in Michigan make their products from sugar beets.
Rodney Burton creative commons

There's long been a tug of war between corn growers and sugar refiners over who can get their sweetener into more products. Reuters reports that high fructose corn syrup has been gaining on sugar lately because of higher sugar prices.

Now, sugar growers are suing over a ad campaign that is trying to change the image of high fructose corn syrup.

Michigan Sugar Company has joined a lawsuit against corn processors who are trying to rebrand high-fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."

Read more
Environment
11:23 am
Thu April 28, 2011

The state of Michigan's air

Photo by d.boyd, Flickr

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air Report this week.

More than a dozen Michigan cities made the list of the most polluted cities in the country for ozone pollution – also known as smog – and particle pollution – also called soot. The major sources of this pollution are factories and power plants... and our cars and trucks and even our lawnmowers.

The report has three separate lists of the most polluted cities.  There are lists for ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution.  Detroit ranked 17th most polluted for year-round particle pollution. Grand Rapids tied for 43rd worst ozone pollution.

Shelly Kiser is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Michigan. 

"Ozone is created in the atmosphere with a couple chemicals that need heat and light, so it's usually something we see in the summer. It increases your risk of early death, you're more likely to have asthma attacks. Particle pollution, on the other hand, is what we think of as soot, so it's tiny pieces of something that can blow in the wind, and they are so tiny that they can go way down in the deepest part of your lungs and really wreak havoc there. It increases your risk of death during high levels over a short period of time, or at low levels over a long period of time."

There is some good news in the report. Many Michigan communities have improved air quality over previous years and some Michigan cities actually made the list of the cleanest cities in the country.  The cleanest cities for particle pollution were the greater Lansing area and Saginaw.

Read more
Environment
11:11 am
Thu April 28, 2011

A predator for the crop-damaging invasive stink bug?

The native ranges of Brown marmorated stink bugs are found in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. But they hitched a ride to the U.S. and are enjoying some tasty crops here.
PSU Dept. of Entomology

The invasive skunk of the insect world has been found in four counties in Michigan.

Here are the counties where the Brown marmorated stink bug has been found:

  • Berrien
  • Eaton
  • Genesee
  • Ingham

If the bug feels threatened, or if you squish it, this stink bug... stinks.

But the damage it can do to crops is what has officials in Michigan worried.

The PSU Department of Entomology says the Brown marmorated stink bug damages fruit and vegetable crops by sucking plant fluids through its beak.

A piece in lansingnoise.com estimated the damage it could do:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year looked at the potential damage to crops. Topping the list was the country's $2.2 billion apple industry. Michigan's share is $115 million worth, or 590 million pounds of apples harvested each year.

"I have these growers telling me that they fear this might be the worst pest in a generation for orchards," said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, which represents the state's apple industry.

The bug has proven it can resist pesticides, so what's to be done?

Sabri Ben-Achour filed a report for NPR on how some researchers are looking into using foreign wasps to fight the bug:

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Trissolcus wasps are from China, Japan and Korea. The same place where the invasive stink bug came from. The wasps are natural enemies of the Brown marmorated stink bug, so researchers want to know if they can release them in the U.S. without harming other native stink bugs that are beneficial.

The researchers say it will take them three years to find out. In the meantime, some farmers will continue to try to fight the bug with pesticides - Ben-Achour reports some farmers are asking the EPA to relax pesticide regulations.

Pages