Environment & Science

A new study finds inner-city kids might have a higher than normal risk of developing food allergies.

Researchers studied more than 500 kids from birth through age 5, in Boston, Baltimore, New York City, and St. Louis.

Dr. Robert Wood is a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. He says normal food allergy rates are around 5-6%. But that rate went up when they looked at kids in the inner city.

User mgreason / wikimedia commons

The Environmental Protection Agency has a plan for cleaning up soil contaminated by dioxins along the Tittabawasee River floodplain. The floodplain extends along 21 miles of the river below the Dow Chemical plant in Midland.

The EPA says the dioxins, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects, came from waste disposal, emissions and incineration from the plant.

The EPA has been directing Dow to do temporary cleanups around people’s homes whenever the river floods.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Earlier this month, from August 2 to August 4, people living in Toledo were suddenly without water. Pea-green bacteria growing in Lake Erie had released a toxin that got into the city's water supply.

The Mayor of Toledo, Michael Collins, compared what happened in his city to 9/11.

From Tom Troy of the Toledo Blade:

NOAA

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The University of Michigan Water Center is forming a five-year partnership with a federal agency to oversee scientific research dealing with ecologically sensitive coastal areas.

Officials said Monday the center has been awarded a $20 million contract to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the program.

It supports studies of how land use, pollution, habitat degradation and climate change affect estuary areas, which are brackish places where rivers meet the oceans or large lakes such as the Great Lakes. They host an abundance of plant and animal life and help filter pollutants. They also shield coastal areas from storms and prevent erosion.

University of Michigan scientist Don Scavia says research under the program should help policymakers protect and restore estuaries.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

Michigan environmental officials say most of the state’s drinking water is safe from the sort of contamination that forced the city of Toledo to issue a don’t-drink emergency order.

Tests determined water from Lake Erie was contaminated with microsystin toxin produced by a type of cyanobacteria. The bacteria looks a lot like pea-green algae growing in the water.

At high-enough levels, the toxin can cause health issues such as nervous system or liver damage.

Steve Busch is a state water specialist. He says about 34,000 people in southeast Michigan lost access to safe drinking water because they get it through the Toledo system, but he says many more could be effected by a more widespread crisis.

“We have about 100,000 people that are relying on drinking water from Lake Erie as a source itself.”

Busch says other Great Lakes are deeper and cleaner, and not as susceptible to problems created by the bacteria.

The flooding event in Detroit fits the global warming pattern, according to reports such as National Climate Assessment.
Michigan Emergency Management & Homeland Security / Flickr

Climate scientists have issued a steady drumbeat of warnings and data pointing to profound changes that have already begun because of climate change.

Yet a survey from the United Kingdom finds that when it comes to climate denial, the United States leads the world. Only 54% of Americans agree that human activity is largely causing the climate change we're currently seeing.

Why is the U.S. the world leader in climate denial? And how can scientists and policymakers convert the "deniers?"

Saginaw River, Bay City
User: Juan N Only / Flickr

BAY CITY, Mich. - Bay City crews are expected work over the course of several months on repairs at the site of a water main break that drained up to 20 million gallons of water.

The Bay City Times reports crews worked Wednesday on one water main and discussed plans to repair the break in another main that prompted water-use restrictions for days after officials became aware of the problem Saturday.

After reviewing blueprints, officials determined an 8-inch water main broke. Officials earlier said it was a 24-inch main. The water made its way into an abandoned, 36-inch storm drain that discharges into the Saginaw River.

Detailed plans for a fix are pending. Water from Bay City serves the city of 35,000 and much of the surrounding county.

Central Michigan University / Steve Jessmore

You might’ve heard that Amazon is hoping to one day deliver packages to your door by little unmanned helicopters.

Now, scientists are getting into the act, too.

“This is our unmanned aerial vehicle; an electronically powered helicopter,” Benjamin Heumann says as he unpacks a 6-foot helicopter. We’re in the middle of a rare wetland called a prairie fen near Chelsea. Heumann directs the Center for Geographic Information Science at Central Michigan University.

Tree planting demonstration led by the Greening of Detroit
User: The Greening of Detroit / facebook

When you bring up your mental image of big post-industrial American cities like Detroit, do you think of blight, decaying buildings, or empty lots?

You probably don’t think of trees or green infrastructure.

Dean Hay wants to change that. He is the Director of Green Infrastructure at Greening of Detroit. This group has planted more than 81,000 trees in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park since it began in 1989.

Hay says with the tremendous challenges Detroit is facing, it is still important to put energy and resources into planting trees.

“Trees are community builders. They help us have safe streets and reduce crime. The shades they produce reduce summer temperatures in these areas. Wherever there’s a large canopy area, the value of those houses increase,” says Hay.

Perhaps we can learn lessons from Milwaukee in building a strong green infrastructure. Joe Wilson is the executive director at Greening Milwaukee, a city which was recently named as one of the 10 Best Urban Forests in America.

"We see trees as a part of our infrastructure. We see it as important and vital as our sewer system, as important and as vital as our utility system," says Wilson.

*Listen to our conversation with Dean Hay and Joe Wilson above.

Lundin Mining

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by state environmental regulators to allow construction of a nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.

A three-judge panel unanimously sided with the Department of Environmental Quality, which issued mining and groundwater discharge permits to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. The Marquette County mine is now owned by Lundin Mining Corp.

DEQ officials approved a mining permit for the project in 2007, drawing legal challenges from environmentalists and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. A DEQ administrative law judge and a circuit court judge affirmed the department's decisions, and opponents took the case to the Court of Appeals.

The mine has been constructed and is scheduled to begin producing minerals this fall.

Ben Alman

Michigan cereal maker Kellogg announced a broad initiative today to tackle a number of environmental issues.

The company says its efforts will be focused in two areas:

  1. Responsible sourcing, and
  2. Conserving natural resources.

The company says it will “responsibly source its top 10 ingredients and materials by 2020, and validate compliance across all direct suppliers by 2015.”

They also say they will work to be more efficient with their packaging materials and will continue to work on reducing how much energy is used in making their products.

You can read more about all their “Global Sustainability 2020 Commitments” here.

Diane Holdorf is the the company's chief sustainability officer.

The company plans to educate and give resources to its suppliers to be more energy efficient as well as reduce water use and maintain healthier soil.

"We're really trying to look very holistically at the business and what makes sense, not just for us and what's right for the environment and society, but also for our consumers, our customers and our other stakeholders, knowing that not only is it what we expect of ourselves, but it's what others expect of us as well," Holdorf said.

More from John Flesher of the Associated Press:

Under the plan, the Battle Creek-based food products manufacturer will require key suppliers such as farms and mills to measure and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas outputs and targets for reducing them. The company said it will report annually on those emissions and include climate and deforestation policies in the company's code of conduct for suppliers.

Earlier this year, Oxfam International was critical of food companies for not doing enough to combat climate change. They called the Kellogg Company and General Mills "climate laggards."

Oxfam praised this latest effort by Kellogg. 

– Alyse Guenther, Michigan Radio Newsroom

*This post was updated.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

These days, getting pretty much any kind of environmental policy made into law involves a lot of fighting and delay.

New research from Michigan State University finds Americans are becoming more divided over environmental protection and they seem to be getting their cue mainly from Congress.

Aaron McCright is a sociologist at MSU and the lead author of the study. He writes that things weren’t always so partisan. In fact, many landmark environmental laws were born during the Nixon Administration.

From 'Red Scare' to 'Green Menace'

But then the Soviet Union fell and, according to McCright's research, the American conservative movement (consisting of major conservative think tanks, wealthy families, and conservative foundations) moved its focus away from former communists toward what they saw as the 'green menace'.

"This really came through in the late 80s and early 90s, so this anti-environmentalism of the conservative movement was driving the changing policy stance of the Republican party and it's mostly because of a significant drop off in pro-environmental voting among Republicans in both the House and the Senate,"said McCright. "Whereas the Democrats just sort of continued on a light, upward trend in pro-environmental voting."

Rainbow trout at a Michigan fish hatchery facility
User: All Things Michigan / Flickr

​Environmental groups are asking the state to take back permission for a fish hatchery to expand its operations on a legendary trout stream. The operator has been given permission to raise as much as 300,000 pounds of rainbow trout in the facility. 

The complaint says there are not enough protections to ensure the Grayling Fish Hatchery won’t allow diseases and parasites to escape into the Au Sable River.

Marvin Roberson is with the Sierra Club.

“The permit doesn’t require those pools to be monitored to see whether or not fish or parasites or diseases are escaping from the facility, and we think it’s outlandish to say 'you don’t have to check to see whether those things are getting out,'” Roberson said.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality says the agency is closely monitoring the water around the hatchery, and will act quickly if there’s a problem.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr

Ever wonder what you can find below the surface of our Great Lakes? David Jude tells us on today's Stateside.

Jude is a research scientist emeritus at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.

Jude says the most fish-populated lake is Lake Erie. It’s shallow, has very diverse habitat, and as a result, has high species diversity. The least-populated lake is Lake Superior because of its cold temperatures and depth.

In his experience, Jude says the species you are most likely to see in each of the lakes are:

  • Lake Erie – round goby, yellow perch, gizzard shad, brook silverside, largemouth and smallmouth bass;
  • Lake Huron – spottail shiner, quagga and zebra mussels, emerald shiner, walleye, and lake herring;
  • Lake Ontario – Atlantic salmon, round goby, gizzard shad, spottail shiner, yellow perch, and white perch;
  • Lake Michigan – spottail shiner, round goby, and yellow perch;
  • Lake Superior – lake herring, emerald shiner, and longnose dace.

*Listen to the full interview with David Jude above.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio – The findings of a toxin in the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in Ohio and southeastern Michigan a week ago is putting a big spotlight on how it got there.

Scientists and farmers agree that phosphorus from agriculture runoff is feeding the cyanobacteria blooms on Lake Erie linked to the microcystin toxin.

Political leaders are calling for more studies to find out why the blooms are increasing and how to control them. But a number of environmental groups say it's time for strict regulations on the agriculture industry.

NASA

Beginning this weekend, state parks are hosting a special weeklong stargazing event.

The annual Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak during the next few days.

Elissa Dennert is with the Department of Natural Resources. She says nearly two dozen state parks will host stargazing events to give people a great view of the heavens.

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

One Michigan township wants to make special deals with oil and gas drillers. 

State law does not allow townships to regulate oil and gas drilling. But with all the controversy around fracking, some wish they could.  One township in northern lower Michigan is trying to work around that rule and have a voice.  

There are no active oil or gas wells in Edwards Township, a farming community near West Branch. However, there are some old wells that are capped off.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A toxin produced by a kind of cyanobacteria contaminated Toledo's water supply over the weekend. It left 400,000 people without drinking water.

Blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) like these happen when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off into Lake Erie from farms and sewage treatment plants.

The International Joint Commission is an independent organization that gives advice to the U.S. and Canada on Great Lakes issues. Earlier this year, the IJC put out a report on how to prevent these blooms.

Raj Bejankiwar, of the Commission's Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario, is the lead scientist on that report.

Cyanobacteria blooms were a problem in the '60s and '70s, but then they went away and in the 2000s they started coming back. Bejankiwar says it's because of runoff, mainly from farms.

"We have to stop feeding algae their food, which is phosphorus. We use that extensively in the agriculture land and Toledo is right in the ground zero zone for algae, especially the Maumee River watershed." Bejankiwar adds that in the past few years, heavy storms have washed phosphorus-filled fertilizer from farms. "It ends up in the Maumee River and then finally in Lake Erie."

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of Toledo has lifted a drinking water ban

The ban went into effect early Saturday after tests showed high levels of a toxin in the city’s drinking water. 

The toxin came from a bloom of cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae,  near the city's water intake.  

Mayor D. Michael Collins says city officials will take the next 48 hours to assess how the emergency was handled.

Gary Fahnenstiel is a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Water Center. He said that these blooms have been around for a while, and perhaps this event can push us toward treatment and mitigation of cyanobacteria blooms.

"This probably caught the public more as a surprise than the scientists or the water quality professionals," Fahnenstiel said. 

* Listen to the full interview above.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to "algae blooms" in Lake Erie. These are really bacterial blooms (cyanobacteria) that look like algae. The copy has been clarified above.

User: Total due / Flickr

“What a beautiful fall day.”

Normally you won’t think anything of a tweet like this. But when that tweet comes at the end of July, it’s a little disconcerting.  

With the temperatures over the past few weeks dipping into the 50s, it’s hard not to think about the bigger consequences.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently said if climate trends continue, Michigan agriculture will be harmed. That’s a big issue when you consider that agriculture is the state’s second largest industry, and agri-food and agri-energy businesses make up more than 20% of the state’s workforce.

Philip Robertson is a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Michigan State University. He joined us today to talk about how climate change could affect the future of farming in Michigan.

Jim Byrum was also with us to share what it means from the business side of agriculture. Byrum is the President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

*Listen to the full interview above.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Update Monday, August 4th, 9:40am: Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins says the water ban is lifted in northwest Ohio and drinking water for 400,000 residents is safe. We'll have more details as they come in.

Sunday, August 3, 2014:   More than 400,000 people in Toledo and surrounding areas are without drinking water for a second day, due to a huge cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie, where the area gets its water supply.  The cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, create a dangerous toxin called microcystin, and exposure to the toxin can cause serious health issues. 

On Sunday afternoon, a boat hastily chartered by the National Wildlife Federation cruises over to see the massive cyanobacteria bloom floating near the city of Toledo.  It's hot, and it's a pretty day, but the water looks oddly bright green.

That's the cyanobacteria bloom. The blooms have been appearing for a couple of decades, but they're getting worse.

Toledo Councilman Larry Sykes says he and other officials have been worried about this for a long time.

©Emantras Inc 2014

There's good news for Michigan students who don't want to dissect animals in the science lab.

The State Board of Education has adopted a policy that schools give students a chance to opt out of animal dissection.

Students who choose not to dissect real animals would instead follow with the class on a computer program.

It's a policy recommendation, not legislation.

John Austin is the president of the board. He said this could potentially save schools money. And he added that most medical schools don't use real animal dissections anymore to teach students.

isamadrid / MorgueFile

Toledo's mayor says some 400,000 regional residents should continue to find other sources for drinking water. 

Tests showed on Friday that the city's water supply contained toxins, possibly  from cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.

The Toledo Blade reports Mayor Michael Collins said at a news conference today that water samples are improving, but he didn't give the all-clear for water consumption or for cooking. 

Snyder: State ready to aid towns using Erie water

Aug 3, 2014

Governor Rick Snyder says that state agencies are ready to help southeastern Michigan residents and communities that are affected by the toxic contamination of Lake Erie water.

Four Monroe County communities use water affected by the use ban that originated with problems just across the state border in Toledo.

The Monroe County health department says residents of Luna Pier, Bedford and Erie Townships and a portion of LaSalle Township should follow restrictions announced by Toledo.

Toledo issues water warning over cyanobacteria toxin

Aug 2, 2014
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's fourth-largest city has warned residents not to consume its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly related to cyanobacteria on Lake Erie. Toledo issued the warning early Saturday. It said tests at one treatment plant returned two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption. The city warned against boiling because it will only increase the toxin's concentration.

Michiganders have until the end of Thursday to tell state officials what they think of proposed new rules for fracking.

The rules would require oil and gas companies to do more water quality testing and provide more information to the public.

User: carol mitchell / Flickr

Just in case the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement isn’t on your summer reading list, here’s the gist of it:

It’s an agreement between the U.S. and Canada. One of the goals of that agreement is to make the Great Lakes more swimmable, fishable and drinkable.

The International Joint Commission is an independent bi-national organization. It gives advice to the U.S. and Canada on meeting those goals, among other things. The IJC has a Health Professionals Advisory Board, and the board’s come out with a report proposing five ways to measure risks to our health from contaminants and other hazards in the Great Lakes.

The advisory board is proposing these indicators:

  • The chemical integrity of source water
  • Biological hazards of source water
  • Illness risk at Great Lakes beaches
  • Identified risks at Great Lakes beaches
  • Contaminant levels in fish

Lake Improvement Association / Flickr

The western end of Lake Erie, especially near Toledo, is seeing a lot of cyanobacteria this year. It’s been worse, but this year's cyanobacteria bloom is larger than average.

And we’re seeing a kind of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) that can produce a toxin. It can make you sick if you swim in it. It can make pets sick. And it’s a problem for water purification plants and drinking water, too.

Don Scavia is the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. He’s also an aquatic ecologist.

When Lake Erie was considered “dead” back in the 1960s and '70s, these cyanobacteria blooms were a contributing factor.

Dea Armstrong

Like most of us, Dea Armstrong has only seen birds from the ground. Today, she’s going to fly with them.

Armstrong is Ann Arbor’s city ornithologist, and watching birds from a hot air balloon is on her bucket list. I got a chance to tag along to find out what we’d see from the air.

“I’m so excited to see what it’ll be like to look from above and down. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to recognize the birds, of course, but it’ll be just so different,” she says.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

For the first time ever, the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to require power plants to cut their carbon pollution. This week, the EPA is holding public hearings about the plan all around the country.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the agency has already gotten more than 300,000 comments.

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