environmental clean up

East Grand Traverse Bay
User: Bryan Casteel / Flickr

One of Michigan's greatest natural treasures and most popular tourist destinations is Grand Traverse Bay.

So the appearance of a large plume of what looked like chocolate milk in East Grand Traverse Bay last month set off alarm bells.

It didn't take long to realize the murky plume in the East Bay came from clay-filled silt, which was seeping into the East Bay from a major construction site in Acme Township.

Now the state Department of Environmental Quality says the runoff from the Grand Traverse Town Center site violates various state and federal permits.

And those who love Grand Traverse Bay are deeply concerned.

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."

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

Working on the broken oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan
EPA

It's been four years since the Enbridge pipeline Line 6B broke, creating the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

More than a million gallons of tar sands oil have been cleaned up from Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. This summer, crews are dredging areas of Morrow Lake.

Steve Hamilton is a professor of ecosystem ecology at the Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University. He’s served as an independent scientific advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency throughout the cleanup. I talked with him for today's Environment Report.

A few years ago, right in the heart of the cleanup, an EPA official said the agency was "writing the book" on how to remove tar sands oil from the bottom of a river.

Hamilton agrees: "First, before it even got to the bottom, we learned that in the first year, it stuck to surfaces of plants and debris that made a tarry mess that largely had to be manually removed." 

He says it was the removal of the submerged oil that made the cleanup last as long as it has.

"It is so incredibly difficult to remove submerged oil from a complex river, extending over nearly 40 miles."

Library of Congress

If you ever want proof that individual actions can make a big difference in our environment, look no further than the Rouge Rescue – the yearly cleanup organized by the Friends of the Rouge River

Since 1986, the volunteers of Friends of the Rouge River have been working to protect and improve the river. Right now they're in the midst of the annual Rouge Rescue, and looking for willing helping hands. 

Cyndi Ross, the program manager of Friends of the Rouge River, joined us. 

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Dredging on the River Raisin. A mechanical dredge removing material on July 11, 2012.
USEPA

High levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been uncovered during a cleanup in the River Raisin, reports Charles Slat of the Monroe News:

Readings upwards of 10,000 parts per billion — some of the highest levels initially found during a 2007 partial clean-up at the site — also have been found during the recent dredging.

Earlier this week, there was a landslide at a coal-burning power plant in Wisconsin. We Energies operates the plant. On their property, there’s a ravine next to a bluff on the shore of Lake Michigan. That ravine is filled with coal ash.

Coal ash is what’s left over when coal is burned to create electricity and it can contain toxic substances like arsenic, mercury and lead.

When the bluff collapsed on Monday, mud, soil, and coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan.

Barry McNulty is with We Energies.

“The vast majority of the debris including the soils and even coal ash, remain on land today. But a portion of that debris certainly spilled into Lake Michigan, which includes three vehicles, we believe, some coal ash, different soil from the bluff,” McNulty said.

McNulty said they don’t know how much coal ash got into the lake, but he said they are installing booms and using skimmers to clean up the spill.

The cause of the spill is under investigation.

State of Michigan

Cleanup crews are collecting oil that remains at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River this week.

It’s been nearly a year since more than 840,000 gallons of heavy crude oil leaked from a broken pipeline near Marshall. More than 90% of the oil has been cleaned up already.

Becky Haase is a spokesperson for Enbridge Energy, the company that owns the pipeline.

Flickr user NHN_2009

Authorities say about 20,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed into the Kalamazoo River following a power outage at a Battle Creek wastewater plant.
    

The Battle Creek Enquirer and the Kalamazoo Gazette report that officials on Friday issued a public health advisory following the overflow. Battle Creek Utilities Director Ken Kohs says an electrical short caused a power outage that lasted for a few hours.
    

user brianhef / flickr

This week’s guest for “What’s Working” is Julie Powers, the Director of the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council. Ms. Powers has been involved in the planning and organizing of a day of community service in Lansing, set to happen this year on May 14th. The event is entitled, “Adopt-Your-Place.”

Volunteers will be led by event organizers in such tasks as water testing and clean-up along the Grand River, planting and mulching public gardens throughout the area, clearing trails, repairing eyesores, and generally giving some TLC to local sites in need.

bigmikesndtech / flickr

The clean-up of industrial waste in Muskegon Lake will start next month. The lake is contaminated with mercury and other pollutants that get into fish and wildlife. The Muskegon River flows through the lake on its way to Lake Michigan.

Kathy Evans is with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

“U.S EPA and the state of Michigan entered into the agreement to clean up Muskegon Lake and the community sees this as very beneficial to the local economy, to the environment to the fish and wildlife habitat and the water quality here in Muskegon Lake and to Lake Michigan.”

The clean-up is being paid for by the state and federal governments and is expected to cost twelve-million dollars.

Vistavision / Flickr

All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about $12 million a year out of it.

A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.

With budget cuts, money for pollution clean-up is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.

"Well the programs that are funding environmental clean-up no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs."

The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible. They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.

This might sound like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan. But the state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark-Michigan containers.

The state changed the bottle bill to require manufactures to add the mark, and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.

The American Beverage Association is bringing the suit. They didn’t return calls for comment on this story. But, they’ve told other media outlets that making special cans and bottles for Michigan will be expensive and they don’t want to do it.

Retailers are siding with the state in the suit. Mike Lashbrook is the President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesaler Association.

"Well, you know, this issue, the fact that there is this smuggling that’s been going on, it’s not a joke like the Seinfeld episode. It is a major problem.

He says retailers are also worried about losing money to bottle smugglers.

The state has already put a little over a million dollars into upgrading the bottle machines to read the special mark. If the Beverage Association wins their case the state will lose this money.