Environment & Science

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.”  

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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."

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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!
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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Environment
4:04 pm
Mon December 20, 2010

Green group finds contaminated tap water in Ann Arbor

An example of a chromium compound (chrom(VI)-oxide)
user BXXXM - wikimedia commons

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says it commissioned a study that tested tap water in 35 cities across the United States and found a cancer causing chemical in 31 of the cities they tested.

In Michigan, the EWG tested for evidence of hexavalent chromium in Ann Arbor's water supply and found the chemical at .21 parts per billion. The group says a proposed "safe" level in California is .06 parts per billion.

The group says:

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Environment
3:17 pm
Mon December 20, 2010

Automakers sue over E15, a higher ethanol blend in fuel

Turning corn into fuel at the Lincolnway ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa
flickr user - freddthompson

Fuel-makers blend refined gasoline with ethanol to make it burn more cleanly.

Corn-based ethanol has been considered a much better fuel additive since MTBE was found leaking into groundwater supplies (the CBS News magazine 60 Minutes did a report that led to MTBE's downfall as an additive).

But there's been debate on how much ethanol to allow in gas. The accepted standard has been a 10% mix, which is found in most gas across the country.

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Science/Medicine
1:12 pm
Mon December 20, 2010

Lunar eclipse tonight

A lunar eclipse in 2008
D'Arcy Norman - wikimedia commons user

Update December 21st, 2:00 a.m.:

Well, I woke up... the Earth's shadow is passing over the moon right now. NASA says it'll be in full eclipse starting at 2:41 a.m. and then the shadow will start slipping off the moon at 3:53 a.m.

Welcome to the shortest day of the year! Now... time for bed.

December 20th, 1:12 p.m.

It's not as special as a solar eclipse, which happens in one spot (say in Detroit, MI) around once every several hundred years, but a lunar eclipse is still pretty cool. Even if it does happen around twice a year.

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Environment
5:01 pm
Thu December 16, 2010

More cash to battle Asian Carp

Silver carp are sensitive to vibrations and often jump when a motorboat passes by.
USFWS

The Obama Administration announced it will dedicate more resources to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

Today, a coordinated group of state and federal agencies released the 2011 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework.

In it the group calls for increased monitoring and further study on the pathways carp can use to get into the Lakes.

The Detroit Free Press reports the framework calls for:

$47 million worth of new projects... to combat Asian carp and prevent their spread to the Great Lakes. The new work includes a new laboratory in Wisconsin that will do increased DNA sampling for Asian carp around the lakes, aiming to take 120 samples per week.

The additional money is expected to come from money that was originally allocated from other Great Lakes clean-up projects.

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Environment
1:47 pm
Thu December 16, 2010

Suing for quiet recreation in the forest

A stand of red pine trees in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
Photo courtesy of Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service

A man who’s been dogging the U.S. Forest Service to make some parts of the Huron Manistee Forest off limits to gun hunters and snowmobilers won his case in federal court this fall.

As Bob Allen reports, the Court says forest managers have to consider setting aside roughly 70,000 acres for quiet uses such as hiking, bird watching and cross country skiing.

Kurt Meister sued the Forest Service as one citizen, and it's unusual to get as far as he has with his legal challenge.  He says:

“This case isn’t about hunting. It’s not about gun hunting. It’s not about stopping gun hunting. It’s simply saying it shouldn’t be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, you’re affecting other people’s rights.”

The Forest Service points out they have to manage forests for multiple uses, and try to balance those uses with a minimum amount of conflict.  Jeff Pullen is a biologist in charge of writing the plan for the Huron Manistee.

“Really, if you look at the 2,000 or so comments we got on the plan, we had one person asking for this. And we felt, from an agency perspective, it didn’t seem reasonable to develop a separate alternative that looked at this issue that one person was raising.”

 

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