Environment & Science

Science/Medicine
3:57 pm
Tue January 18, 2011

U of M opens new business incubator in old Pfizer facility

U of M's new venture accelerator will connect startups with talent and funding
Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

A new type of incubator is open for business at the University of Michigan. It’s called a “venture accelerator,” and it’s located in the  sprawling research complex Pfizer built before it left Michigan a few years ago.

Read more
Environment
1:54 pm
Tue January 18, 2011

Energy efficiency makeovers for Michigan neighborhoods

A house set up with a blower door test. Energy auditors use this device to find out where the leaks are in your home.
Photo by Flickr user Brandon Stafford

Many homeowners just can’t afford the upfront investment to make their homes more energy efficient. And many programs meant to defray some of that cost haven’t gotten much traction with consumers.

But Sarah Cwiek reports the federal government’s “BetterBuildings” program is trying to change that. It’s just now getting off the ground in Michigan with money from the 2009 stimulus package.

Sarah visited Chris Matus at his Ferndale home on the day he was getting an energy audit from Well Home's Kent Trobaugh.

The guys set up something called a blower door test to find out where the leaks were in Matus' home.  Then they roamed the house with an infrared camera.  The screen shows a landscape of blurred colors: gold is heat, purple is cold. Matus says the whole exercise reminds him of a certain movie from the 1980s.

“It feels like we’re Ghostbusting.”

Matus is getting about a thousand dollars worth of work done on his house today. But it only costs him 50. That’s because he’s taking advantage of the U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus-funded BetterBuildings program. Michigan got 30-million dollars—the second-biggest chunk of any state.

Read more
Science/Medicine
11:36 am
Tue January 18, 2011

MSU's new accelerator attracting talent and jobs

A group touring the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at MSU.
MSU - NSCL

We hear a lot of talk about people and talent leaving the state.

Today, a story about people and talent coming to the state.

Lorri Higgins writes in today's Detroit Free Press about Michigan State University's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.

Today, the lab has two superconducting cyclotron accelerators that attract a lot of nuclear physicists to the program. And construction on a new accelerator will begin in a couple of years.

Read more
Environment
6:36 am
Tue January 18, 2011

Ontario cities no longer sending garbage to Michigan

Ontario cities are no longer sending their municipal waste to Michigan
Nio_nl Flickr

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow hailed what she called a "major milestone" in the fight to stop Canadian trash shipments to Michigan. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was at a press conference that the Senator held yesterday in Detroit. Cwiek sent this report:

Michigan charges only 21 cents a ton to dump trash in landfills. That's far less than other Great Lakes states.

As a result, Ontario, as well as some U.S. states, export some of their trash to Michigan. But, Stabenow says as of January first, Ontario cities are no longer shipping their municipal waste. She credits a voluntary agreement she and Senator Carl Levin reached with Ontario officials in 2006.

But, Stabenow says that's not the end of the story because the agreement doesn't apply to non-municipal trash.

Commercial and industrial waste accounts for about 60-percent of the trash that's shipped from Canada to Michigan.

Environment
4:19 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Playing matchmaker for sea lampreys

The mouth of a lamprey. It uses suction, teeth, and a razor sharp tongue to attach itself to its prey.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon... and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money... pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the lady lampreys.

I called Nick Johnson with the Michigan lamprey research team to find out how the team's third and final year of testing these pheromones is going.

You could call him a lamprey matchmaker.

"Pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they're highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they're developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact."

Read more
Environment
3:45 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Oil spill's effect on turtles and toads

A recently rescued oiled turtle ready for cleaning.
Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource & Management

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.  More than 840,000 gallons spilled from a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP.  Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles... and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

This week, I talked with herpetologist David Mifsud, aka "Turtle Dave."  He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery. He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

Read more
Environment
11:17 pm
Thu January 13, 2011

EPA discusses options to clean up toxic chemicals from the Kalamazoo River

Allied Landfill near Alcott and Cork Streets.
David Kinsey Creative Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ready to select one of four options to clean-up one of the main contaminators of the Kalamazoo River. The Allied Landfill is full of waste from old paper factories that contain the toxic chemicals.

At a public meeting Thursday night, EPA officials asked for feedback on the plans. The options range from doing nothing (EPA officials said that's not really an option), to capping the dump, to hauling the one-and-a-half-million-cubic-yards of contaminated waste off to a safer location.

Read more
Environment
3:58 pm
Tue January 11, 2011

Fish die-off along Chicago lakeshore

Gizzard shad along the shore of Lake Erie in 2006. Dieoffs have been reported before.
flickr user molajen

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting "a bizarre scene evolving along the Chicago lakefront."

Geese and mallard ducks are apparently gulping down thousands of dead fish that are in the ice or floating in the open water around the ice.

The paper quotes Lake Michigan Program biologist Dan Makauskas who says:

"Gizzard shad are pretty sensitive. On the toughness scale, [they] are pretty soft."

Some biologists attribute the die-off to lower oxygen levels because of ice cover around the lakefront.

Former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander wrote about a gizzard shad die-off on Mona Lake in Muskegon County back in 2008.

That die-off was attributed to a hard winter as well. From Alexander's report:

Gizzard shad die-offs are common in several area lakes. The fish often die during winter as ice cover decreases oxygen levels in the water; the fish also die from thermal shock when the lake warms up rapidly in the spring, said Rich O'Neal, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Gizzard shad are members of the herring family and are native to the Great Lakes.

Environment
11:31 am
Tue January 11, 2011

Green cars: the new black

The Chevy Volt - the Car of the Year for 2011.
Flickr user: citizen of the deep

In past years, most of the so-called “green cars” at the North American International Auto Show were concept cars – not ready for prime time. This year is different.

The Toyota Prius has been America’s premier environmentally friendly car for ten years. Now, the car has some serious competition. Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf have an EPA fuel economy rating the equivalent of more than 90 miles to the gallon.

Tracy Samilton talked with Brad Berman, founder of plugincars.com

“Suddenly it makes the Prius' 50 mpg seem mild. Now it’s Toyota’s turn to say, hey, we’re still relevant.”

Toyota is turning the Prius into an entire brand. People going to the show will be able to see three new Prius vehicles, including a plug-in being unveiled in Detroit.

Read more
Energy
4:26 pm
Fri January 7, 2011

Holland city and Michigan officials to discuss coal plant expansion outside of court

James De Young coal plant near Lake Macatawa in Holland.
Holland BPW

The state is challenging a lower court’s ruling that would’ve allowed Holland to expand a coal-fired power plant. But  its unclear whether or not state officials will follow through on the legal battle.

Read more
Environment
2:18 pm
Fri January 7, 2011

More coyotes in West Michigan

Canis latrans
user mayra wikimedia commons

Coyotes are opportunistic animals. They'll just as soon go after your cat as they would a rabbit in the wild.

So if you live in an area where coyotes are abundant, you might see them as a nuisance.

Kaitlin Shawgo of the Grand Rapids Press writes about coyotes on the rise in West Michigan.

In the piece, Sara Schaefer with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment says the numbers are up in that part of the state:

"There's no doubt that the coyote population is up. In almost all areas I cover in southwest Michigan, they’re up."

Read more
Environment
11:55 am
Thu January 6, 2011

Toxins in art supplies

Larry Stephens became a professional artist when he was laid off from his auto job two years ago. He's been doing well, even selling paintings to ABC for the TV show Detroit 187.
Photo by Suzy Vuljevic

Many art supplies contain lead, arsenic, asbestos and other potentially dangerous compounds.  The Environment Report's Tanya Ott profiles a Michigan artist who spends 8-12 hours a day working with spray paint.

Most of the time Larry Stephens paints outside. But in winter, he can’t. So he paints indoors, wearing a respirator or a dust mask. It’s not enough.

“You know within a couple of hours I’ll start getting dizzy. You’ll end up coughing up paint the next morning. You’ll go to blow your nose and it’ll be green and red and yellow and whatever colors you’re using that day.”

Experts say there are no large scale health studies of people who use art supplies.

But Dr. Steven Marcus – who is New Jersey’s poison control chief – says lead, arsenic and cadmium are found in some paint pigments. Stone carving can release asbestos into the air and cause lung disease. And some glues and cements contain chemicals that can cause neurological damage – including a condition called “wrist drop,” where sufferers actually lose strength in their hands.  

“And for an artist, that’s their bread and butter. They lose strength in their hands and they can’t be an artist.”  

Read more
Environment
10:49 am
Thu January 6, 2011

New Great Lakes leadership

The view from the Empire Bluff hiking trail.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

Governor Rick Snyder picked outgoing Republican state Senator Patty Birkholtz to lead the Office of the Great Lakes. As you might guess, the director of this office oversees all things Great Lakes. Birkholtz will advise the governor and make policy recommendations on everything from Asian carp to water use.

Birkholtz says protecting the Great Lakes will lead to a stronger economy.

“When we have a healthy Great Lakes system we have more jobs here in this state as well as regionally, and if we don’t have a healthy Great Lakes system it’s a detriment to not only the jobs situation but also businesses locating here."

Read more
Environment
12:04 pm
Tue January 4, 2011

Recycling your Christmas tree

Christmas tree drop-off sites are becoming more common.
(Photo by mmhaffie, Flickr)

So you’ve put away all the ornaments and the lights and the tinsel... and you have that bare tree in your living room... what now?  It’s not illegal in Michigan to throw your Christmas tree away... but a lot of cities and counties do recycle them... and chip them up into mulch.  The recycling website Earth 911 lets you type in your zip code to find tree drop-off sites near you.

I talked with Marsha Gray - she's the executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. She says the first thing you should do if you want to recycle your tree is call the people who pick up your trash.

“You want to ask them if they do a separate collection for the trees. If they’re collecting them separately from your regular trash, that means they’re most likely recycling, probably chipping those trees into mulch. If they’re collecting at the same time and they’re going right into the bin that means they will go to the landfill."

Marsha's tips for recycling - or reusing your tree:

  • If your waste hauler won't recycle your tree... call your city or county park department.  There's a good chance they offer a drop-off site for the first few weeks of January.
  • Stand your tree up next to the birdfeeder for a little perching spot for birds while they wait their turn at the feeder.
  • Use the branches as plant stakes
  • If you're really ambitious, break out the chainsaw and remove the branches (you don't want to burn these in a fire - they can spark!), cut the trunk into logs, and add them to your log pile to season for a year.  Free firewood for next Christmas!
Read more
Environment
11:11 am
Tue January 4, 2011

Supreme Court Gives You the Right to Sue the State

The Michigan Supreme Court
Photo by larrysphatpage, Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court says anyone can sue the state if they believe it's acting in a way that harms the environment. 

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra talked with Nick Schroeck with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center to find out what this decision means. He says if a company wants to do something like discharge treated wastewater into a creek or a river, for example, it needs a permit from the state to do so:

“The way our environmental law works, you have to have a permit to pollute, as it were. That means that the state regulates the amount of pollution that’s allowed into the waters of the state.”

Read more
sustainability
1:10 am
Tue January 4, 2011

New construction, expansions in Kalamazoo must furnish bike racks

Keith Edkins Creative Commons

New or expanding businesses in the City of Kalamazoo will be required to include space to park bicycles.

Mayor Bobby Hopewell says it is part of a broader plan to promote sustainability.

 “We talk about wanting to attract young people and keep young people; we talk about wanting to be a vibrant urban core community. These are the things that urban communities do. They recognize that we can’t only be about the automobile, we have to be about how everyone gets around in the community.”

Only new buildings or those that are expanding are mandated to accommodate bike racks. The number required depends on how many people will use the building, with a maximum of 25 spaces required. Existing public and private entities will be encouraged to add places for their customers and employees to park their bikes.

Read more
Oil Spill
4:21 pm
Thu December 23, 2010

Enbridge revises estimated amount of oil that spilled from ruptured pipeline

Crews working this summer to collect to oil in the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek.
Steve Carmondy Michigan Radio

This week the energy company involved in an oil spill that reached the Kalamazoo River is revising the amount of total oil that leaked from a ruptured pipeline near Marshall. Enbridge Energy submitted the update to US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration this week.

Read more
Environment
10:56 am
Thu December 23, 2010

A House of Straw

Joe and Shelly Trumpey with their two daughters, Autumn and Evelyn, in front of the strawbale home they built themselves.
Photo by Steve Charles

Step aside, Three Little Pigs. 

Strawbale buildings have come a long way from the flimsy huts a wolf could blow down.  The Trumpey family in Grass Lake, Michigan, built their 2,000 square foot home from straw, clay, field stones all sourced locally - and timber salvaged from trees killed by the emerald ash borer. 

They're living off the grid - everything they do: washing laundry, firing up the sawmill, watching TV -  is powered by their solar panels (with a small backup generator for those cloudy weeks in the winter).

Joe Trumpey says fire is a considerable risk before you seal up the straw walls with adobe. 

“When you’re building the building all the open straw is a huge fire hazard at that point so we were really careful not to have any smokers around and no open fires. Once it’s coated with mud the fire proofing is really in place.”

You can hear Joe and Shelly talk about the experience of building with straw.

The stats:

  • 1500 bales of straw
  • the 18-inch thick walls are insulated with the straw, plastered on either side with adobe mud - giving the Trumpeys 2-3 times the insulation value of a conventional home
  • 50 tons of field stones, dug from their own farmland
  • 7 years of planning, 2.5 years in the making
  • Cost: about $75 per square foot - but the family did 99% of the labor themselves

Read more
Environment
5:50 pm
Tue December 21, 2010

There's hope! Days getting longer in northern hemisphere

Sunrise during the winter solstice in Stonehenge in 2005
Tom Goskar - Flickr

I was hoping to get to this post sooner, but the day just got away from me.

Today seemed unusually short. That's because it IS the shortest day of the year.

And soon, very soon, the days in the northern hemisphere will start to get longer.

Read more
Environment
10:40 am
Tue December 21, 2010

Oldest Net-Zero House in America

Matt and Kelly Grocoff have taken the last major step toward becoming net-zero: installing solar panels.
Photo courtesy of Matt Grocoff.

The Environment Report has been following an effort to make a Michigan house the oldest net-zero house in America. That means in a year the home will produce as much energy or more than it uses. Lester Graham reports... the owners are at the point where they can reach that goal.

Matt and Kelly Grocoff bought an old house in a historic neighborhood in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Matt wanted to show that making an older home an energy efficient showcase made more sense than building new.  Kelly was just a little skeptical.

“When we first bought the house and Matt was talking about what he wanted to do and what some goals might be, part of me was sort of like yeah, yeah, you know. Matt’s a dreamer. He likes to think big. And it’s really happening.”

 

Find out how to assess your own home's energy efficiency.

Read more

Pages