pollution

Stateside
4:54 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

Southwest Detroit is Michigan's most-polluted area

Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Studies by environmental scientists find that 48217 is the most polluted zip code in the entire state of Michigan.

It's the zip for the Boynton neighborhood in southwest Detroit, perched next to the Marathon Refinery, which refines tar sands oil that comes from Canada.

The byproduct of that tar sands refining? Those huge piles of pet coke that appeared along the banks of the Detroit River last year before being removed.

For many people who call the Boynton neighborhood home, life is about belching smoke stacks, terrible odors, worries about what chemicals they're being exposed to, and declining property values.

Renee Lewis recently reported on "Life in Michigan's Dirtiest Zip Code" for Al Jazeera America, and she joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Environment Report
2:57 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

You pay about a penny per gallon of gas to clean up pollution, but is that money spent well?

There are thousands of old gas station sites across the state.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Every time you fill up, you pay seven-eighths of a cent per gallon of gas for a “regulatory fee” that was originally set up to help clean up the thousands of old underground storage tanks in Michigan.

Those pennies you pay at the pump add up to a $50 million pot of money each year.

It’s called the Refined Petroleum Fund. The fund worked initially. The money helped remove tens of thousands of old underground storage tanks in Michigan. When those old tanks leak, they can pollute the soil and ruin nearby water sources.

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The Environment Report
9:38 am
Thu January 16, 2014

Can sewage treatment plants protect fish from the chemicals in the water?

The USGS found that a third of all the male smallmouth bass they sampled had intersex traits.
micropterus_dolomieu Wikimedia commons

So you know the saying, right? Stuff flows downhill? Myron Erickson knows a lot about that "stuff."

He heads up the sewage treatment plant that sits along the Grand River in Wyoming, Michigan (right next to Grand Rapids).

The screening room is where they take out the "grit." Erickson calls them "knick knacks."

"It's a small particle like sand, and also all things that come to us in sewage, like peas, and corn, and peanuts," says Erickson.

Read more
Stateside
9:42 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

New MSU study looks into the effects of dioxins on human health

Imerman Park sits on the flood plain of the Tittabawassee River. Signs along the trail warn walkers about dioxin contamination in some of the park's soil.
Photo by Shawn Allee

An interview with Norbert Kaminski, director of Michigan State University's Center for Integrative Toxicology.

Dioxins are environmental pollutants that are known to be toxic to many animal species, and since dioxins work their way up the food chain, there needs to be a clearer understanding of their effects on humans.

That's why we wanted you to know about a more than $14 million study being launched at Michigan State University. Researchers hope to get a better idea of how dioxins affect human health and they hope to figure out new ways of removing them from the environment.

Norbert Kaminski directs Michigan State University's Center for Integrative Toxicology and he is the lead researcher in this major study. He joined us today from the campus in East Lansing.

Listen to the full interview above.

Stateside
5:33 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

10 percent of Michigan's septic fields stink: 130,000 of them failed

Septic systems in Michigan don't adhere to uniform standards
user: Soil Science Flickr

An interview with Jeff Alexander.

You're about to read something you might not want to spend much time thinking about, but that doesn't mean it's not important. 

That subject is septic fields. Of the 1.3 million wastewater treatment systems in Michigan, nearly 10 percent have failed. That's about 130,000 systems. 

With thousands of failing septic systems throughout the state, what's that doing to our water?

Michigan is the only state in the Union that doesn't have uniform standards governing how on-site sewage treatment systems should be designed, built, installed and maintained. 

Jeff Alexander recently examined the state of Michigan's septic fields in an article featured in Bridge Magazine

Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty spoke with Alexander about what scientists at Michigan State are finding.

For those unsavory details and more, click the audio link above.  

Environment & Science
3:35 pm
Fri April 19, 2013

State tests: Mounds of oil refinery byproduct safe

Petroleum coke rocks.
user romanm wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - Tests by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have found that hulking black mounds along the banks of the Detroit River in southwest Detroit don't pose a threat to human health.

The petroleum coke, or pet coke, mounds are a byproduct of oil refining used in energy production. The material has been brought by trucks from the nearby Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery, and the mounds drew attention starting earlier this year.

The Detroit News reported the MDEQ's findings Friday.

Area residents, the Canadian government and U.S. lawmakers are among those concerned about potential pollution and health effects.

Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum says the pet coke stored along the Detroit River is no longer owned by the company. If stored properly, however, Marathon says pet coke poses no environmental concerns.

Environment & Science
5:47 pm
Fri April 5, 2013

Sierra Club report: Pollution hits southeast Michigan's poor hardest

The Marathon oil refinery in Detroit

Detroit and its downriver suburbs have some serious pollution problems.

And according to a new Sierra Club report, the greatest effects fall on poor, largely non-white communities.

The report deals with environmental justice in southeast Michigan—the idea that poor, minority communities tend to shoulder the burdens of pollution.

It details toxic emissions from six major sources in and around Detroit—five of which are clustered in the downriver area.

Read more
The Environment Report
10:10 am
Thu September 20, 2012

Cleaning up a big, underground mess in Michigan (PHOTOS)

In 2007, Logan's Gas and Deli lost 8,000 gallons of gas underground. The owners walked away, and the state is still cleaning up the mess.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

There are around 4,800 gas stations in Michigan, but at one time, there were a lot more. It seemed like just about every corner had a gas station on it.

Many of those gas stations are closed now, but taxpayers are often on the hook for what’s been left behind.

I visited one of these polluted sites recently with representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The heavy traffic along State Route 89 near Battle Creek makes it a perfect place for a gas station.

And for a long time, things were going well for Logan’s Gas and Deli.

Read more
Environment & Science
11:59 am
Fri September 14, 2012

Dow chemical sampling properties in Midland, Michigan for dioxin pollution

Dow Chemical's headquarters in Midland.
wikimedia commons

MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says Dow Chemical Co. is ahead of schedule as it samples residential properties in Midland for dioxin.

The DEQ this week approved Dow's request to begin work on 300 properties that had been scheduled for inspection next year.

It's part of a five-year plan to clean up neighborhoods contaminated for decades by airborne dioxin from a Dow plant in Midland, where the company is based.

Of about 150 properties sampled thus far, 22 have had dioxin levels higher than 250 parts per trillion, which triggers a company-funded cleanup if the owners want it.

Results from this fall's sampling will be available next spring. Any needed cleanups will get started then.

Dow is negotiating with federal officials over cleanup of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers.

Environment & Science
8:14 am
Mon August 20, 2012

DTE to start pollution cleanup in Ann Arbor this week

Kevin Lund, a senior geologist at the MDEQ's Department of Remediation, kicks over gravel to reveal the pollution along the Huron River in Ann Arbor.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Starting today, DTE plans to bring in the heavy equipment needed for the pollution cleanup along the Huron River west of the Broadway Bridge in Ann Arbor.

Black, oily coal tar pollution has been underground for decades.

It was left behind by an old manufactured gas plant owned by the utility company. Two years ago regulators discovered the coal tar was getting into the river. Now, DTE plans to spend between $2-3 million digging it out.

Read more
The Environment Report
9:00 am
Tue July 31, 2012

Cleaning up a pollution puzzle in Ann Arbor (PHOTOS)

Kevin Lund of MDEQ shows a sample of oil and water he collected when he dug a hole in the bank of the Huron River. The analysis they did on the samples they collected showed that the contamination was coming from the old MichCon manufactured gas plant.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The city of Ann Arbor recently spent more than one million dollars rebuilding an old mill race along the Huron River. The Argo Cascades is a series of little waterfalls and pools where kayakers and people floating in inner tubes come to cool off.

But downstream from the Cascades on the other side of the river, there’s a problem.

There's been pollution lurking underground for some time from an old industrial plant, and two years ago regulators found that some of the pollution was making its way into the Huron River.

The days before natural gas

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Environment & Science
1:50 pm
Sun June 24, 2012

PCB cleanup continues along Kalamazoo River

An artist's rendering of a polychlorinated biphenyls molecule
Foxriverwatch.com

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - Cleanup of sediments contaminated with PCBs continues along parts of the Kalamazoo River.

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Environment
2:14 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

New outdoor burning law limits what can be torched

A tool often used to burn refuse in rural areas. A new law puts limits on what can be burned.
joelk75 Flickr

A new law will soon limit the types of waste that can be thrown into pits and barrels to be burned. Plastics, chemically treated wood, and electronics are among the types of trash that cannot be burned.

The new rules don’t go as far as some people wanted, which was to ban outdoor burning altogether.

There were fights between neighbors about drifting smoke  -- in some cases, causing or aggravating asthma attacks.

But burning waste is so common in parts of rural Michigan that a compromise was struck. Some of the most toxic materials are banned, but grass, leaves and other yard waste can still be burned.

The director of the state Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant said he hopes this is the beginning of a culture change in rural Michigan.

“We’ll go out, and we’re trying to educate,” said Wyant. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed in our enforcement, but we will communicate about the law, and we do want to move away from outdoor burning.”

The new rules become enforceable in six months.

Environment
5:00 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Ann Arbor pollution cleanup plan, public meeting tonight

DTE Energy owns the site where an old manufactured gas plant once operated in Ann Arbor. The site is polluted by by-products from producing coal gas.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Tonight at Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting to discuss a plan to clean up toxic pollution along the banks of the Huron River.

The soil near the Huron River just downriver of Argo Dam has been contaminated with substances leftover from an old manufactured gas plant that operated from around the 1900s to the 1940s.

Manufactured gas plants converted coal to gas for street lamps, cooking, and heating prior to the widespread use of natural gas.

But back in those days, converting coal to gas left behind some nasty pollution. And the tarry, oily-like pollution can bubble up decades later - as it has in Ann Arbor.

The site in Ann Arbor is owned by the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon), a subsidiary of DTE Energy.

You can get an idea of where the pollution is on the site by clicking through the images above.

In a pollution response plan filed on behalf of MichCon, several pollutants were noted.

  • Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) (associated with petroleum releases);
  • Total polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (associated with MGP tar and/or petroleum releases);
  • Metals (arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, thallium, and vanadium) (some of these metals (e.g., arsenic) may be from natural background);
  • Ammonia; and
  • Available cyanide.

Here's more on tonight's public meeting from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality:

MichCon property owners are proposing to remove sediment, near shore soil, and some contaminated upland soil from the Huron River and its south bank at the MichCon plant site near Broadway Street. This plan requires a construction permit from DEQ.  

The public meeting and hearing will be held at Cobblestone Farm, located at 2781 Packard Road in Ann Arbor. Doors will open in the big barn on the second floor at 6 p.m. for informal discussion with DEQ staff, followed by a public meeting at 7 p.m., and a formal hearing to gather public comment around 8 p.m.  

As part of the permit review process, the DEQ also is accepting written public comment on the plan through April 30, 2012.

DTE Energy is planning several methods to control the pollution on the site, including removing polluted sediment, and capping and collecting other sources of pollution.

AnnArbor.com's Ryan Stanton reports Ann Arbor city officials are anxious to see it cleaned up:

Ann Arbor officials expect the cleanup to take place starting this summer. DTE has vowed to pay for whitewater improvements along the river as part of the project.

Matt Naud, the city's environmental coordinator, expects the cleanup project will go before the Ann Arbor Planning Commission for site plan approval because it will disturb natural features, but he doesn't expect that to be a significant issue.

"We're just glad this significant level of cleanup is happening," Naud said. "It's a big project. They're going to be moving a lot of soil."

Environment
3:25 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Health officials release draft assessment of polluted site in mid-Michigan

The "former burn area" circled in part of the Gratiot County Golf Course.

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) released a draft assessment today of an area in Gratiot County once used to burn waste. The contaminated area is near St. Loius, Michigan.

From the MDCH:

Of the results from the Public Health Assessment, soil from the former burn area and from a nearby neighborhood did not have levels of chemicals over health-based screening levels. There are ash piles in the former burn area that do have levels of arsenic and lead over health-based screening levels. However, people are not expected to be harmed by those chemicals, as people will have little to no contact with the ash piles.

Further, shallow groundwater under the former burn area had higher levels of chemicals than groundwater from deeper underground. This could potentially mean that chemicals in the soil or ash piles at the former burn area could be moving into the groundwater. People have little, if any, contact with the shallow groundwater under the former burn area, and nearby private drinking water wells did not have chemical levels above health-based screening levels.

The MDCH officials are inviting comments from the public on their health assessment. Comments are being accepted through May 7.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been developing a cleanup plan for the site and the Velsicol chemical plant site.

Environment
12:53 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

EPA: Lake Michigan Badger ferry can apply to continue coal ash dumping

wikimedia commons

LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - Federal regulators will let operators of the passenger ferry S.S. Badger apply for a permit to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The Badger typically puts more than 500 tons of waste ash into the lake every year during its crossings between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis. The Environmental Protection Agency previously set a December deadline for the company to stop the practice.

The Ludington Daily News reports that EPA on Tuesday told Badger operators they could apply to continue the dumping as they study ways to convert the ship to burn natural gas.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga tells The Muskegon Chronicle that the Badger is a historic vessel that provides jobs on both sides of the lake.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also praised the EPA decision.

Environment
9:00 am
Thu December 22, 2011

Great Lakes restoration funding survives budget cuts

People who are working on cleaning up the Great Lakes got some good news this week. After months of negotiations, the 2012 federal budget contains $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

That money will be used to clean up pollution, deal with invasive species and restore wildlife habitat. A lot of these projects are already underway.

Jeff Skelding is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says in a time when many budgets are getting slashed, funding for Great Lakes cleanup will remain steady.

“We have pretty much full support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. I mean, they see the wisdom of infusing federal funding into the region, not only to clean up the Lakes which of course is very important, but the ancillary benefit we get from that is the economic benefits of investing these funds.”

The budget also includes more than $500 million to help Great Lakes states upgrade their aging sewer systems. When it rains, the sewers often get overloaded, and raw sewage can wash up on beaches.

Environment
9:49 am
Tue December 20, 2011

Fingerprinting mercury pollution

PhD candidate Laura Sherman setting up a rain collector in Crystal River, Florida.
Photo by Laura White

Mercury is a neurotoxin. The Environmental Protection Agency says mercury can be especially harmful for babies and kids. Mercury can affect their developing brains and harm their memory, attention, language and motor skills.

Mercury is naturally-occurring. Volcanoes emit mercury and so do hot springs, like the ones in Yellowstone National Park.

But the EPA points out... the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the U.S. comes from coal-burning power plants.

Joel Blum is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. Blum says when power plants burn coal, mercury is emitted as a gas.

“In order to become toxic, it has to be transformed into a particular form known as methylmercury which is something that happens in the environment.”

So... mercury falls from the atmosphere, and is converted to methylmercury in the water. That toxic form builds up in fish... and it can build up in us when we eat fish.

But for years... there’s been a big debate about where that mercury goes when it’s released from a power plant smokestack.

“How much is deposited nearby, close to the plant, and how much goes into what we call global pool of mercury - basically goes into the atmosphere and stays there for a long period of time and mixes with mercury from other sources.”

Joel Blum and his colleagues have started to crack that puzzle with some careful detective work. They were able to track mercury emissions from a power plant in Florida... and they found that a high proportion of the mercury ended up nearby.

They did this by looking at chemical fingerprints.

Read more
Environment
11:56 am
Thu September 8, 2011

Platte Lake cleaner after years of salmon hatchery pollution

Platte Lake
Photo by Chris Harnish, courtesy of Interlochen Public Radio

Decades ago, residents sued to stop a fish hatchery in northern Michigan from polluting a lake. More than thirty years later, the legal battles have ended and the pollution has been greatly reduced.

Northern Michigan is home to some of the clearest blue lakes in the world, like Torch, Glen and Crystal.

Once upon a time Wilfred Sweicki says Platte Lake in Benzie County was in that league.

“It was extremely clear, never quite as clear as Crystal or Glen but nearly so.”

Unfortunately for Sweicki and other homeowners on Platte, fishery biologists did something nearby that changed the Great Lakes dramatically.

They planted Pacific salmon in the Platte River.

That was in the late sixties and soon a billion dollar fishery was born.

A hatchery was built and animal waste from millions of fish began pouring into Platte Lake. The waste contained the nutrient phosphorus.

Phosphorous caused algae to bloom, clouding the water and killing a variety of aquatic animals and plants.

It even caused chemical changes in the sediment of the lake bottom that produced milky clouds of a clay-like substance that collects on stones and docks.

Read more
Environment and Economy
4:48 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

EPA wants to hire unemployed for Great Lakes clean-up

There are 30 pollution hotspots or "areas of concern" on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes (four of the "areas of concern" are shared with Canada). A new EPA project aimed at employing workers could lead to clean up in some of these areas.
U.S.E.P.A.

The U.S. has suffered from a bad economy for the last three years.

Parts of the Great Lakes have suffered from bad pollution problems for the last several decades.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to put people to work cleaning up pollution in the region.

From an EPA press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work," said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps."

The AP reports that Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the GLRI.

One of the GLRI's main goals is to clean up toxic hot spots known as "Areas of Concern" around the Great Lakes.

These Areas of Concern have been identified for decades, but clean-up efforts have stalled as funding for clean-up has been scarce.

EPA officials say they will award funding for these new clean-up projects by the end of September.

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