pollution

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.

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.

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.

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.

mdprovost ~ Prosper in 2011 / Flickr

Michigan ranks seventh worst in air pollution on a list the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the “Toxic 20.” The NRDC study found almost half of all toxic air pollution comes from coal and oil-fired power plants. Detroit Edison’s Monroe Power Plant ranks fourth among power plant polluters in the country. Ohio took first before Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says Michigan is on its way to less toxic energy usage.

"We’re on sort of the verge of a new era where we’re going to use as much renewables as we possibly can, we’re going to look at efficiency because that provides power to about one tenth the cost of a new coal plant and we’re going to maximize those two efforts," McDiarmid said.

McDiarmid says Michigan’s rank on the “Toxic 20” is an opportunity to work toward less harmful energy use in the future.

The "Toxic 20" are:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa 

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

deqmiair.org

The sun and heat cooks up the pollution in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says an "Ozone Action Day" has been declared in four Michigan cities today:

  • Benton Harbor
  • Kalamazoo
  • Grand Rapids
  • Ludington

And tomorrow, six cities will be have Ozone Action Days, as the heat is expected to stay with us.

  • Ann Arbor
  • Benton Harbor
  • Detroit
  • Kalamazoo
  • Grand Rapids
  • Ludington

Ground-level ozone pollution is formed on hot, sunny days when emissions from cars and trucks, industrial smokestacks, and vapors from gas and other chemicals are cooked into "bad" ozone.

The EPA says the pollution can have serious health and environmental impacts:

Breathing ozone, a primary component of smog, can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground-level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

Ground-level ozone also damages vegetation and ecosystems. In the United States alone, ozone is responsible for an estimated $500 million in reduced crop production each year.

We're supposed to take action on an Ozone Action Day. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments offers these tips on what to do when an Action Day is declared in your area:

  • Avoid refueling your vehicle. If you must refuel, fill up as late in the day as possible, preferably in the evening when the weather is cooler. Fumes released at the gas pump contribute to ozone formation.
  • Delay mowing your lawn. Emissions from your lawn mower help form ozone.
  • If you plan to barbeque, avoid using lighter fluid. Emissions from the fluid contribute to ozone formation.
  • Take the bus, carpool, bike or walk. You'll reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as save money.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - Kalamazoo authorities have developed a partnership to deal with the hazardous waste left behind by illegal methamphetamine production.

The Department of Public Safety says in a statement Monday that it worked with state officials and the city's Public Services Department to develop a methamphetamine remediation program that's modeled after one developed by Kentucky State Police.

Authorities collect the waste and it's transferred to a central location where the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration takes over disposal responsibility.

Kalamazoo says it's the first such Occupational Safety and Health Administration-compliant program in the state.

Many people call Detroit a “post-industrial” city.

But residents in one corner of the city still live alongside a cluster of heavy industry, and they say it’s affecting their health. Now, community members in southwest Detroit want the state to do more to find out just how extensive those health impacts might be.

Southwest Detroit is home to a number of heavy industrial sites. Some effects can be seen with the naked eye: from hazy diesel truck fumes to an eerie metallic dust residents say has rained down on their neighborhood. But others are more subtle. The neighborhood is full of children with asthma. Residents also blame the pollution for cancer and other deadly illnesses, though such a link hasn’t been definitively established.

Now, southwest Detroit residents are pushing hard for the government to launch a thorough investigation into those potential health impacts.

The federal budget left many groups wanting more money, but those lobbying to restore Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are actually pretty pleased with the President and Congress.

Andy Buchsbaum co-chairs a group that’s trying to get enough funding over five years to restore the Great Lakes. He says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative didn’t get all the money it wanted in the 2011 federal budget. But Buchsbaum says given the tight economic times, the $300 million they did get will keep the program on track.

“The Great Lakes did remarkably well this year in the federal budget, and the people in this region will benefit from it.”

In Michigan, Buchsbaum says the money is being used to restore wetlands. It’s also being used to get rid of toxic hot spots, such as the so-called black lagoon in the Detroit River area. And it’s being used to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.

Buchsbaum says both parties supported Great Lakes restoration because of the economic benefits, and everyone wants their children to be able to swim at the beaches and drink the water.

-Julie Grant for The Environment Report

wikimedia commons

It's a case that has turned into a political football for the conservative and liberal incarnations of the Michigan Supreme Court.

In an order released today, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

From the Associated Press:

The case involved the discharge of partially contaminated water to a popular trout stream. In December, the court's liberal majority used the case to give more rights to people to challenge
state regulators over certain environmental permits.

At issue is whether people have the right to sue the state over pollution concerns when the state issues things like pollution discharge permits.

The case that was argued involved the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Merit Energy, and the Anglers of the AuSable.

user greg l / wikimedia commons

From the Associated Press:

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy has canceled an Earth Day program scheduled for Saturday after more than 600,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into wetlands near the event's Kalamazoo-area location.

Conservancy workers discovered the leak Thursday and a cleanup was under way Friday. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that vandals caused the spill by blocking a sewer line with several logs.

Sue Foune of Kalamazoo's Public Services Department says lime has been scattered to destroy bacteria. She says the wetlands will absorb and treat the sewage and there should be no long-term
effects.

But conservancy stewardship director Nate Fuller says nutrients in the sewage will boost invasive cattails that the group has been trying to remove.

The vandalism was reported to police.

Google Maps

Update 2:03 p.m.

Officials say the gasoline leak has been stopped. Still no word on how much fuel leaked from the storage tank.

From the Associated Press:

Officials say they've stopped a gasoline leak in Michigan and confirmed the source as a storage tank in the area.

Ingham County emergency officials said in a statement Monday that the tank and a related filling system in White Oak Township, about 55 miles west of Detroit, are owned by Marathon Pipe Line LLC.

A message seeking comment was left Monday by The Associated Press at Marathon's offices.

Wolverine Pipe Line Co., which also owns some tanks at the same storage site, has been working with the county on response to the leak since it was reported Wednesday.

The county says Marathon will take over work dealing with the leak from Wolverine. The amount of the spill remains unknown. There's no evidence of health hazards in the area.

9:07 a.m.

Authorities say they've found the source of the gasoline leak in Ingham County.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan authorities say they've traced a gasoline leak to the area of a storage tank holding 14,700 barrels of fuel. Ingham County Emergency officials said in a statement Sunday that they've found higher levels of spilled gasoline as their monitoring equipment approaches the Wolverine Pipeline Co. facility.

The large gasoline storage tank site is in White Oak Township, about 55 miles west of Detroit.

Some of the gas flowed about a mile down an open drain by the time a farmer reported the leak Wednesday.

The county says the suspected source of the leak is a tank that can hold up to 180,000 barrels of fuel. It says that while the amount of the spill remains unknown, it's nowhere near the capacity of the tank, which was mostly empty when the leak started.

Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris reported yesterday that officials from the Wolverine Pipeline Company were searching for the gasoline leak.

Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

Until last July, many people in Marshall had no idea an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ran underneath their town.

Then, it broke. More than 840,000 gallons of thick, black oil from the Canadian tar sands poured into the Kalamazoo River.

“I think I can sum it up in one word and that is nightmare."

Deb Miller lives just 50 feet from the Kalamazoo River.

“The smell, I don’t even know how to describe the smell, there are no words. You could not be outside."

Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan/EPA

It was one of the largest oil spills in the Midwest... and it’s not over yet.

Crews are still cleaning up from last July’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ruptured... and spilled more than 840,000 gallons of heavy crude. The oil polluted Talmadge Creek and more than 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say most of that oil has been sucked out of the river... and tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed.

But the work is far from done.

The EPA granted me access to one of the contaminated sites on the Kalamazoo River.  I met with Mark Durno, the Deputy Incident Commander with the EPA. He’s overseeing the cleanup teams.  We stood on the bank of the river as dump trucks and loaders rumbled over a bridge out to an island in the river.

“The islands were heavily contaminated, we didn’t expect to see as much oil as we did. If you’d shovel down into the islands you’d see oil pool into the holes we’d dig."

Workers scooped out contaminated soil... hauled it to a staging area and shipped it off site.

Mark Durno says the weather will dictate what happens next. He says heavy rainstorms will probably move oil around. They won’t know how much more cleanup work they’ll have to do until they finish their spring assessment.

“Once the heavy rains recede, we’ll do an assessment over the entire stretch of river to determine whether there are substantial amounts of submerged oil in sediments that still exist in the system.”

He says if they find a lot of oil at the bottom of the river... the crews will have to remove it.

Reports that Enbridge submitted to the EPA and the state of Michigan show the type of oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River was diluted bitumen. Bitumen is a type of oil that comes from tar sands. It’s a very thick oil, and it has to be diluted in order to move through pipelines.

Google Maps

Land and groundwater in the city of St. Louis, Michigan has been contaminated with chemicals from the Velsicol Chemical Company.

Now the city will get $26.5 million to help set up a new water supply  system.

According to the EPA, Velsicol (formerly known as the Michigan Chemical Corporation) "produced various chemical compounds and products at its fifty-four acre main plant site in St. Louis, Michigan, such as hexabromobenzene (HBB), 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethane (DDT), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (tris)."

The EPA says the company produced these chemicals from 1936 until 1978.

From the Associated Press:

ST. LOUIS, Mich. — A federal judge has approved a $26.5 million settlement for a central Michigan community whose water supply was contaminated by a chemical company in the 1950s and 1960s.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Ludington in Bay City signed an order approving the deal on Thursday.

The city of St. Louis, Mich., hopes the settlement with Rosemont, Ill.-based Velsicol Chemical Co. will help pay to replace the water system that serves the area, which is contaminated with a byproduct of the pesticide DDT.

The settlement of the 2007 lawsuit was approved this week by the City Council.

The city says money for the settlement includes $20.5 million from an insurance company for Velsicol and $6 million from a trust related to a former parent company.

The EPA lists the threats and contaminants in the community:

On-site groundwater is contaminated with DDT, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), and other chlorinated compounds. On site soil samples revealed contamination with PBBs, copper, chromium, zinc, and magnesium. The sediments of the Pine River were also contaminated with similar contaminants through direct discharges from the site; however, surface waters do not show any significant impacts. Potential risks exist for people who eat contaminated fish and wildlife in the vicinity of the site.

Scio Residents for Safe Water

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding a public meeting tonight about changes to the 1,4-dioxane groundwater cleanup plan in Ann Arbor.

The meeting will be held at 7:00 p,m. at Abbot Elementary School, 2670 Sequoia Parkway, Ann Arbor.

From the MDEQ:

Nicole Lowen / Environment Michigan

Several protestors rallied outside Congressman Fred Upton’s offices in Kalamazoo Friday.

Nicole Lowen is the with Environment Michigan, a state-wide advocacy group that tries to protect clean air, water and open spaces.

“We had gigantic, oversized asthma inhalers that we dropped off at his office just to represent the thousands of his constituents that are likely to suffer more frequent and severe health problems if he’s successful in stripping away these critical clean air protections.”

She says they were protesting a bill (H.R. 910) Upton introduced that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 

Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House. The republican from St. Joseph says allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will drive up energy costs, destroy jobs and make America less competitive globally.

“Such regulatory authority can only come from elected legislators, not unelected bureaucrats.  We must not allow this administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate,” Upton said in a press release issued Friday.

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:

Freighter on the Saginaw River
flickr user ifmuth

The Bay City Times reports the tug boat sank early Monday spilling 800 gallons of diesel fuel.

It's reported that Grand Rapids-based Young's Environmental Cleanup Inc. and Mt. Clements-based HM Environmental Services are working to contain and clean up the spill.

The cause of the sinking won't be known until the tug is pulled from the river. Paul Luedtke of Luedtke Engineering, the company that owns the boat, said:

"We won't know until then and anything before then would just be speculation."

A crane will pull the tug from the water once the diesel spill is cleaned up.

Rick Snyder
Snyder's campaign website

There wasn’t a lot of talk about environment during the race for governor, but Governor-elect Rick Snyder made it clear during the campaign that he thinks the state’s regulatory system is broken and said he wants fewer regulations on businesses. That has some people wondering whether that means there will also be fewer of the regulations that prevent pollution in the state.  I talked with James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, to get his take on this.

Gas drilling rig in Appalachia
User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

What a fracking week on Michigan Radio!

Lester Graham of Michigan Watch and Rebecca Williams from the Environment Report are bringing us a series of reports on what might be a big part of Michigan's future: energy companies moving in and using a practice called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to get at gas deposits buried deep under Michigan.

Just how interested are energy companies in these gas deposits? Graham reports

James Hansen being arrested in Washington D.C.
Rainforest Action Network / Creative Commons

NASA Scientist James Hansen has been arrested in front of the White House. Hansen was participating in a protest against mountaintop removal coal mining. The Associated Press covered Hansen's arrest. The article said Hansen issued a statement saying mountaintop removal...

Aerial photo of Talmadge Creek after Enbridge oil spill
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

It’s been more than a month since an estimated 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the pipeline leak, says it has cleaned up about 700,000 gallons of that oil.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The EPA is just now starting to find out how much oil is at the bottom of the river.

Working on the broken oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan
EPA

The pipe has been repaired. It was tested yesterday. Now, as Steve Carmody reports, Enbridge Energy officials plan to ask regulators for permission to restart the pipeline that just five weeks ago gushed close to a million gallons of crude oil.

Carmody reports:

Great blue heron covered in oil from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.
Michigan's oil response Flickr page / State of Michigan

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports "an oil pipeline that broke near Marshall last month is undergoing a critical pressure test today. Enbridge Energy is flooding the pipeline with water to see if it can withstand the pressure."

If it works, and government inspectors say it's o.k., the pipeline will be restarted.

Air pollution around a highway in downtown Los Angeles
Ali Azimi / Creative Commons

Ozone way up in the atmosphere... good. Ozone near the ground... bad. 

SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) says the air outside could be unhealthy today.  The group says "elements have been in place for a few days now – sunny skies, hot temperatures, and southerly winds. Admittedly this is beautiful weather, but the ongoing nature of these conditions is compromising our air quality and enabling ground-level ozone to remain high."

Air Force airplane spraying dispersant chemicals on Gulf oil spill
Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz / U.S. Air Force

There's been a lot of talk recently about how quickly microbes in the Gulf have been gobbling up the spill oil.  Scientific American has a report on what researchers know about the microbes in the Gulf. Reporter David Biello reports "the microbes of the deep Gulf of Mexico were ready to handle an oil spill."

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