Environment & Science

Tap water in a Flint hospital on Oct. 16, 2015.
Joyce Zhu / Flintwaterstudy.org

The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s conducting a full review of what happened in Flint.

For more than a year, state officials assured city residents their water was safe. Those assurances turned out to be wrong.

And it wasn’t until some residents got outside experts involved -- who not only found elevated lead levels in the drinking water, but that blood lead levels were also rising in Flint kids – that the state admitted there was a problem.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard says it has not found any active oil leaks from a 78-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck site is 12 miles northeast of Sandusky.

The tank barge is believed to be the Argo. Records show it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil when it sank. No one knows what's still on board, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the Argo to be the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Sportsman Tracker / Facebook

The app Sportsman Tracker was developed in Grand Rapids by Jeff Courter, the company's CEO.

"A lot of times you just want to know what’s going on in your area," he says. "If it’s fishing, you want to know what’s biting, what’s going on, what are people catching around you.”

Gord Cole

A report on fish farming in the Great Lakes suggests Michigan should move carefully if it allows the industry to start up.

State officials asked a panel of scientists to study the issue. There have been two proposals from companies that want to start raising rainbow trout in net pens in the Great Lakes.

Canadians raise millions of trout in Lake Huron every year and some people want Michigan to do the same.

Michigan would have many more of these under a 100% renewable plan proposed by a Stanford University professor.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A study by Stanford University professor Marc Jacobson says every state in the U.S. could get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2050 – and save money in the process.

In Michigan, most of that power would come from the state's most abundant renewable resource: wind. Forty percent of the state's electric needs could be met with on-shore wind power, according to Jacobson's analysis, and 31% from off-shore wind power.

Tom Kowalczk

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A dive team is searching for the source of what appears to be an oil-based substance leaking from a barge that sank in Lake Erie during the 1930s.

  The recently discovered barge is one of nearly 90 shipwrecks on a federal registry created two years ago to identify the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

  Most of those wrecks are along the Atlantic seaboard and were sunk by German submarines during World War II.

Staples

Big businesses often oppose increased regulations. But not always: take the Clean Power Plan. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule requires states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

The coal industry and some states, including Michigan (Attorney General Bill Schuette joined the lawsuit), are fighting the rule. But, hundreds of businesses have stepped forward to support it.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The Coast Guard is investigating a leak from a 78-year-old tank barge in western Lake Erie that's believed to be the Argo.

It sank in a storm in 1937.

Side sonar scan of the sunken barge believed to be the "Argo."
Tom Kowalczk, CLUE

Update - Monday, October 26, 10:10 a.m.:

The Coast Guard is sending out a crew from Station Marblehead in Ohio along with members of the Atlantic Strike Team from New Jersey to the wreck site this morning. They'll start doing air monitoring at the site. 

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher M. Yaw says the team will work to get a "good, clean sample" of the unknown substance that appears to be leaking from the barge so they can identify it.

Open Data is the idea that some data should be freely available to the public. But can we put that data to good use if we can't really connect with it?
flickr user jwyg / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It’s easy to feel sometimes like we’re awash in lots of numbers in the news.

There are all kinds of data about foreclosures, costs of health, poverty, you name it.

But it’s all just numbers. It can be hard to look through the data to see the real people beneath. Numbers don’t tell you about moms struggling, hungry kids, or people who sleep on concrete at night.

Alex B. Hill has been thinking a lot about the separation of big numbers and real people.

Cluster of pawpaw fruit
flickr user Wendell Smith / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There is a fruit native to North America that is plentiful and was for a long time quite popular.

But chances are, you’ve never tasted it.

Keith Grasman, Calvin College. / From USFWS Field Notes site

Researchers are finding flame retardants and stain repellent chemicals in herring gull eggs in the Great Lakes region.

These chemicals are used in a lot of consumer products, but they can last a long time in the environment and some of them can build up in the food web.

Two recent studies on perfluorinated chemicals and flame retardants found some newer forms of these chemicals in the birds’ eggs that we don’t know a lot about.

A small sample of the thick, bacteria-ridden algae spreading across Lake Erie
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Half a million Toledo residents lost their drinking water in the summer of 2014 thanks to thick carpets of bacteria-laden algae on Lake Erie.

It hammered home a warning that scientists have been trying to sell for years: Lake Erie is in serious trouble.

Andy Stuart, president of the Toledo Rotary Club, wants to make sure no one forgets. The club is hosting a Lake Erie crisis conference this weekend.

Rogerio Fernandes

Coloring books are more popular than ever. Adults are encouraged to use them as stress relievers and an easy outlet for creativity.

Kathryn Curtis, a University of Michigan School of Public Policy graduate, is hoping to use coloring books to raise awareness of the problem of water security in Brazil and the U.S.

After spending a year in Brazil and seeing firsthand how the drought has affected farmers there, she decided to create a "plantable" coloring book that she hopes will get people talking about the negative effects of drought.

USGS GLSC Dive Team, Michigan Sea Grant

There are 12 toxic hot spots in Michigan called Areas of Concern.

These are places in the Great Lakes basin where pollution and development have damaged the ecosystems.

The Detroit River is on this list. Before the Clean Water Act, industries on the river treated it as a dumping ground – think waste in the billions of gallons.

The front of a "Dutch Boy White Lead" paint can. Dust from old paint is still one of the major ways kids get exposed to lead.
user Thester11 / Wikimedia Commons

What’s happening in Flint has some people wondering about what’s happening in their homes.

The Flint water crisis is highlighting the problem of lead exposure in kids.

Lead can permanently lower IQ and cause behavior problems. Researchers have even linked children with elevated lead levels with a higher propensity toward crime later in life.

Now, state officials are urging schools around the state to test their water for lead.

But it’s also important to know what’s going on at home.

Flickr user Kenneth Lu / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan lawmakers are talking about banning tiny balls of plastic in products sold in Michigan.

A lot of us use products with microbeads in them. They’re tiny, perfectly round plastic beads that companies add to face and body scrubs and toothpaste.

We wash them down the drain, but they’re so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out.

gonzales2010 / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Today is the last day for the public to weigh in on plans to expand a toxic waste facility in an east Detroit neighborhood.

US Ecology wants permission to expand its capacity to treat and store hazardous materials to 10 times what it handles now.

That includes byproducts from oil and gas fracking.

Concerns from local officials and residents who live near the facility prompted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to extend the public comment period twice.

Richard Conforti with MDEQ said so far, the state has received around 450 comments.

The Flint River.
Sarah Razak / Flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The state plans to urge all schools to test for lead in the drinking water, after elevated lead levels showed up in the water in several schools in Flint.

Flint's situation is unique, in that the city switched to using more corrosive water from the Flint River last year.

Enbridge Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.
Enbridge

A federal judge has ruled in favor of Enbridge Energy and the federal government in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club over a pipeline running through Michigan state forest land.

According to the Sierra Club, Enbridge ought to have been required to carry out a full environmental impact analysis for the pipeline in 2014 when it took out a new permit. 

Honeycrisp apples are explosively popular.
University of Minnesota

In our little informal apple poll, Michiganders agreed: Honeycrisp apples are the tastiest apple to eat.

Unfortunately, your love for Honeycrisp apples could be the reason why they are so pricey.

Up until 2008, farmers had to pay a royalty on Honeycrisp apple seeds to the University of Minnesota, where they were first developed.

Part of the new line 6B pipeline in central Michigan.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The two oil pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac are not unique.

The National Wildlife Federation says there are 5,110 locations across the United States where oil pipelines run through or under navigable waters.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

This week, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write new rules for the ballast water in ships.

Four environmental groups sued the EPA over its current ballast water rule.

Invasive species can get into the Great Lakes in ballast water. Salties are ships that cross the ocean, and lakers are ships that travel only within the Great Lakes. In the decision, the judges criticize the EPA for exempting lakers from certain regulations. 

A Flint resident holds a jug of tainted Flint water.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

One of the biggest questions of the Flint water crisis centers on corrosion control.

As we heard from Virginia Tech water specialist Marc Edwards, federal rules dictate that communities have measures in place to prevent water from leaching lead out of old pipes.

The very thing that happened when the city of Flint stopped taking treated water from Detroit and began drawing its water from the Flint River.

So were corrosion control measures in place or not?

We spoke with Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith and Steve Carmody to sort this question out.

Jeremy Sternberg/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It was August 1998 when FBI agent Greg Stejskal got a phone call about a meteorite stolen from the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

“Nobody really expected anybody to walk off with a 60-pound meteorite,” remembers Stejskal.

Eventually, the FBI and U of M police tracked down a guy named Steven Collins, who denied knowing how the meteorite was stolen.

In this interview with Stateside, retired agent Stejskal tells the story of the missing meteorite and how it was eventually found.

Sarah Razak / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Confused about corrosion control? We were too.

In Flint, lead levels in some children's blood have spiked dramatically. Scientists believe the Flint River is part of the problem. Flint switched from Detroit’s water system and started pulling water from the Flint River last year.

Baby squirrels.
Association to Rescue Kritters

If you can't figure out what to do with the hoards of acorns Mother Nature is piling up on your lawn right now, here's an idea. 

Donate them.

The Association to Rescue Kritters (ARK) in St. Helen has taken in 18 orphaned baby squirrels who won't be able to get through the winter on their own.

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus helps those slimy, bright green blooms of toxic cyanobacteria grow.

micropterus_dolomieu / Wikimedia commons

A state lawmaker wants to make sure commercial fish farms will never be allowed to operate in portions of the Great Lakes controlled by Michigan.

State Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, says commercial fish farming could create a huge problem with waste.

“This waste could create algae blooms, all sorts of problems on the shore, as well as out on the lake,” he says.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint hasn’t been using any corrosion-control method since it switched from Detroit’s water system in April 2014. Corrosion-control treatment helps keep lead out of drinking water. Since the switch, more kids are showing up with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

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