water pollution

Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 5)
8:30 am
Fri July 4, 2014

One congressman has kept us in the dark about the health risks of arsenic

Rep. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho, delayed the U.S. EPA's health assessment on arsenic.
Credit wikimedia commons

Michigan's Silent Poison Part V

Arsenic occurs naturally, and Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

Arsenic was also used in insecticides for many years and it's still being used in some weed killers.

David Heath is a senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, and he investigated why a health assessment on arsenic from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been delayed.

Why does this health assessment matter?

Heath said when the EPA first wants to determine how dangerous a toxic chemical is, they first do the science. These assessments can take a long time and the arsenic assessment has been going on for more than a decade.

"It's not until they have done the science to figure out exactly how dangerous a chemical is that they can really take action on it," Heath said. "So it really does come down to 'this is how they protect your health.'"

A single member of Congress, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was able to intentionally delay the EPA's health assessment for years.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 4)
8:30 am
Thu July 3, 2014

These places in Michigan are still working on getting arsenic out of their drinking water

Sue Cherry, the director of Maple Tree Montessori Academy, said the school installed a reverse osmosis system to take out the arsenic. However, that system didn't meet EPA standards. The kids are told not to drink the water from the sinks.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

There’s no way to tell if arsenic is in your water without testing it. Arsenic has no taste and no smell.

Certain parts of Michigan have higher than average levels of arsenic in groundwater. That’s especially true in the Thumb region and a few other counties in southeast Michigan. And that can be a problem if you’re on a private well.

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Environment & Science
10:33 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Politics, profits delay action on arsenic in drinking water

Wendy Brennan, center, outside her home with husband Peter, daughter Caitlyn and granddaughter Madelyn Begin.
Amy Temple The Center for Public Integrity

Arsenic is nearly synonymous with poison. But most people don't realize that they consume small amounts of it in the food they eat and the water they drink.

Recent research suggests even small levels of arsenic may be harmful. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been prepared to say since 2008 that arsenic is 17 times more toxic as a carcinogen than the agency now reports.

Women are especially vulnerable. EPA scientists have concluded that if 100,000 women consumed the legal limit of arsenic each day, 730 of them eventually would get lung or bladder cancer.

The EPA, however, hasn’t been able to make its findings official, an action that could trigger stricter drinking water standards. The roadblock: a single paragraph inserted into a committee report by a member of Congress, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 3)
8:30 am
Wed July 2, 2014

There's arsenic in Michigan's well water, but not a lot of people are talking about it

Drilling a water well in Michigan.
Bushen Well Drilling. Facebook

Michigan's Silent Poison Part III

Parts of southeast Michigan – especially in the Thumb – have higher than average levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic can cause cancer. It’s been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer, and other serious health effects.

If you’re on city water, there’s a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, it’s up to you to find out whether there’s too much arsenic in your water.

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Michigan's Silent Poison (Part 2)
8:00 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Michigan’s arsenic problem is among the worst in the nation. Here’s why that matters.

An arsenic testing kit can help private well owners know the arsenic levels in their drinking water. Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

If you’re on city water, your drinking water has to comply with a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, the federal and state governments do not limit the amount of arsenic in your well.

It’s up to you to test your well and decide whether to treat it.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rock, and it can get into groundwater.  Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

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Stateside
5:16 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Interview: High levels of arsenic could be in your well water

Arsenic is a deadly poison, and there are people in Michigan getting arsenic at levels high above federal standards every time they drink the water coming from their taps.

Michigan Radio's "The Environment Report" is presenting a five-part series this week called "Michigan's Silent Poison," in partnership with The Center for Public Integrity and the public radio show "Reveal."

The Environment Report’s Rebecca Williams spoke on Stateside today, along with David Heath from the Center for Public Integrity.

“No organ system goes untouched by arsenic,” Williams said.

Extremely high doses of arsenic can kill you. Smaller doses have been linked to lung, bladder, skin, prostate, and liver cancers. You can also get arsenic poisoning with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, gastrointestinal pains, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Arsenic can be found in rice, apple juice, beer and wine, and drinking water. The levels are exceptionally high in private wells at people's homes, mostly in the thumb region of Michigan.

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Michigan's Silent Poison
9:00 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Here's how to test and treat your drinking water well for arsenic

Sampling done from 1983 through 2003 shows where arsenic levels in groundwater are the highest in Michigan. Arsenic levels are in micrograms per liter.
Credit Michigan DEQ

In some parts of the U.S., arsenic in the groundwater is just a natural part of the geology. Michigan is one of several states where elevated levels of arsenic in ground water can be found.

This map shows the counties where these elevated levels have been found, but experts caution, elevated arsenic levels in well water can be found just about anywhere in Michigan:

There was a big push to educate people about the dangers of arsenic poisoning around a decade ago, but in some places in Michigan, people still don't know much about it.

And in some other cases, people know about it, but choose to ignore it, for one reason or another.

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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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Environment & Science
12:43 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

More action needed to clean up Lake Erie, says international agency

Algae blooms have once again become common in western Lake Erie.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Massive algae blooms and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.

Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.

The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.

The amount of phosphorus available in rivers and lakes is one of the main drivers of algae growth. The more you have, the more the algae blooms.

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Environment & Science
10:46 am
Mon January 27, 2014

White Lake could become Michigan’s first to come off U.S-Canada list of pollution hot spots

White Lake is the larger lake pictured. It lies north of Muskegon, Michigan.
Doc Searls Creative Commons

An inland lake north of Muskegon is expected to reach a major milestone this year. Officials anticipate White Lake will be removed from a list of the most-polluted places surrounding the Great Lakes this year.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most of the pollution in White Lake was caused by a chemical company that dumped waste into the water.

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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.

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The Environment Report
9:05 am
Tue January 14, 2014

What should we do about the trace chemicals found in drinking water?

Lack of funds threaten to shut down a monitoring system for southeast Michigan's drinking water.
user william_warby Flickr

The radio version of this story.

Before I talk about the small bits of chemicals often found in drinking water, I want to direct some attention to the national water contamination story going on now because I think it reveals something.

The water is bad in West Virginia

The nation has its eyes on a nine-county area in West Virginia that’s under a state of emergency. A coal-processing chemical leaked into a river and poisoned the drinking water there. Cleanup is ongoing. As they attempt to flush the chemical out of their drinking water systems, officials are trying to determine what level of the chemical is safe.

Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virgina Gazette reports that local and federal officials are saying that "1 part per million" of  crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (the coal processing chemical) is safe for people to drink.

But Ward is having a tough time finding out what they based that number on:

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Environment & Science
1:39 pm
Mon September 30, 2013

Michigan health officials release report on impacts of Enbridge oil spill

An oil covered blue heron caught in the 2010 spill.
Michigan's oil response Flickr page State of Michigan

The Michigan Department of Community Health released its public health assessment of the waters and fish affected by the 2010 Enbridge oil spill.

You can read their report here.

They conclude the spill is "not harmful to health":

MDCH has concluded that no long-term harm to people’s health is expected from contact with chemicals in the surface water during recreational activities, such as wading, swimming, or canoeing. However, contact with oil sheen and globules in the river may cause temporary effects, such as skin irritation.

Fish from the Kalamazoo River and Morrow Lake were tested for oil-related chemicals, as well as chemicals that were previously found in fish there. Fish from areas impacted by the oil spill, including Ceresco Impoundment and Morrow Lake, had similar levels of oil-related chemicals as fish caught in Marshall Pond (upstream of the spill). All oil-related chemical levels were very low. Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels were similar to levels measured in fish caught before the oil spill.

The MDCH has released previous reports on the oil spill's effects on drinking water wells, and on the effects of submerged oil in the sediments of the Kalamazoo River.

Environment & Science
4:59 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Study finds 32 different drugs in Lake Michigan

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

We excrete these drugs or dump them down the drain, and they find their way into our water.

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in rivers and lakes have been documented before, but this research finds levels in Lake Michigan that could have deleterious effects on the ecosystem.

Thirty-two different drugs were found - 14 of them were found at levels "of medium or high ecological risk."

The study was published in the journal Chemosphere:

The environmental risk of PPCPs in large lake systems, such as the Great Lakes, has been questioned due to high dilution; however, the concentrations found in this study, and their corresponding risk quotient, indicate a significant threat by PPCPs to the health of the Great Lakes, particularly near shore organisms.

Brian Bienkowski wrote about the study for Environmental Health News. Of the 14 chemicals found in concentrations of concern, Bienkowski writes triclosan has been studied the most.

...it has proven acutely toxic to algae and can act as a hormone disruptor in fish.

“You’re not going to see fish die-offs [from pharmaceuticals] but subtle changes in how the fish eat and socialize that can have a big impact down the road,” said Kolpin, who did not participate in the study. “With behavior changes and endocrine disruption, reproduction and survival problems may not rear their ugly head for generations.”

The four most commonly found drugs were:

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Environment & Science
1:37 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Ann Arbor, facing water contamination, urges state to step up

A government map the water contamination
http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/environmental_health/card Washtenaw County

As a plume of contaminated ground water keeps expanding in Ann Arbor, the city council wants the state to move faster to protect people from harmful exposure.

To be clear: Ann Arbor drinking water is safe.

But growing swaths of the city’s ground water is no longer a good idea to ingest (and again, the city is NOT getting their water from those areas,) thanks to chemical runoff from years ago.

That chemical compound is 1,4 dioxane and it seeped into ground water between the 1960's and 1980's when a manufacturer stored it in unlined lagoons.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu August 29, 2013

Hunting for plastic pollution in the Great Lakes

Rios-Mendoza on the deck of the Sea Dragon, preparing to go out to test Lake Michigan's waters for plastics.
Lewis Wallace

You can listen to today's Environment Report above.

A research expedition recently set sail from Chicago to search for a Great Lakes garbage patch.

So-called "garbage patches" or islands are actually collections of tiny plastic particles that are choking up regions of the world’s oceans. The expedition has been testing the waters of Lakes Huron and Michigan for a similar phenomenon.

I met up with expedition organizer Asta Mail at a marina in downtown Chicago. It’s a hot day, and a street vendor immediately offers us bottled water.

Mail points down at a plastic bottle in Lake Michigan. It’s pretty easy plastic hunting.

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Stateside
5:54 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Assessing the health of Michigan's rivers and inland waters

The Manistee River flowing through the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
USFS

An interview with Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council of Southeast Michigan.

It's been nearly a year since we launched Stateside, and we've put a lot of focus and attention on issues regarding our Great Lakes.

Today, we shifted our attention to another essential part of Michigan's water wonderland: our rivers and inland waters. How healthy are they? And what do we need to do as a state to preserve and protect them?

Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council of Southeast Michigan, joined us today.

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Politics & Culture
5:50 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Stateside for Monday, July 22nd, 2013

On this Monday, July 22, four days after Detroit made history by filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, we spent the first half of the show breaking things down and figuring out where things stand in the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy ever.

And, we looked at what needs to be done to preserve and protect Michigan's rivers and lakes.

But, back to Detroit and what we know right now. A judge in Lansing will take a week to sort through arguments on whether the state Constitution protects Detroit’s pension funds from losses if the city goes bankrupt.

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemary Aquilina says she will decide next Monday whether Detroit's bankruptcy filing violates the state Constitution, and its protections for pension benefits.

Assuming the Chapter 9 bankruptcy goes forward, Detroit will have to figure out how to reduce billions of dollars of debt. Creditors, of course, will push for the most money they can get, which means they're eyeing some of the city's most valuable and treasured assets.

The Environment Report
9:07 am
Tue June 18, 2013

Ford Airport proposes new system to prevent bacterial slime in nearby creek

This vehicle squeegees deicing fluid off the pavement during the winter months. Then it vacuums the fluid it can to be recycled.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report here or read an expanded version of the story below.

The main airport in Grand Rapids is proposing to build a new system to prevent the buildup of a bacterial film in a nearby river. The system would be the first of its kind at airports in Michigan.

In the winter, airplanes across the state are sprayed down with a fluid to prevent the buildup of snow and ice.

At Gerald R. Ford International Airport, roughly a third of that de-icing fluid makes its way into a small creek nearby. Bacteria in the creek can easily break down the fluid but they create a smelly film in the process.

The state considers the bio-slime a nuisance, not a human health risk. But it does deplete the oxygen, choking out aquatic life.

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Politics & Culture
5:35 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Stateside for Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Democrats in the state House have introduced a range of measures addressing women's health in Michigan. We talked to a state Representative about why she thinks it is time government gets involved in female health.

And, a fight over American Indian-themed school mascots could result in a $3 million budget cut for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

And, the Community Chorus of Detroit has been working hard on its mission to build and strengthen ties is Southeastern Michigan through song.

Also, the former bomber plant in Willow Run could become the new home of the Yankee Air Museum.

And, as prom-season is upon us, Michigan singer/songwriter Allison Downey of The Living Room brought us her memory of the big dance, a prom night that didn't quite go to plan.

First on today’s show, a subject that most of us would just as soon not spend much time thinking about but it is crucial to our health and well-being: septic fields.

Writer Jeff Alexander took a closer look at failed septic fields and the ways they're polluting our precious water, and his reporting is in the current issue of Bridge Magazine.

Jeff joined us from Grand Haven to discuss the issue.

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