The Environment Report | Michigan Radio
WUOMFM

The Environment Report

Tuesdays & Thursdays at 8:50 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan is finding industrial chemicals known as PFAS in the tissue of fish. So it's been issuing “Don’t Eat the Fish” advisories along lakes, rivers and streams. But there are concerns about whether state officials are doing as much as they should. 

Before we get too far into the story, we have to start with a little science.

The reason PFAS chemical contamination in fish is such a concern is because of something called bioaccumulation.

A map of Michigan shows several orange dots denoting locations where PFAS has been discovered.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

UPDATE: This story was updated at 3:53 p.m.

This week, the Environment Report is looking at industrial chemicals called per- and polyfluoralkyl substances – or PFAS. 

People all over Michigan have questions about these chemicals that are being found in their drinking water.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

This week, we’re looking at PFAS chemicals: they're industrial chemicals that have contaminated water sources around the state.

PFAS chemicals are used to make a lot of products stain and water resistant.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the contaminated PFAS sites first documented in Michigan was in Oscoda Township near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. The base has been closed for years.  Firefighting training there used a fire suppressant foam containing a PFAS chemical.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There have been more news stories in recent months about water contamination from a group of industrial chemicals. PFAS chemical pollution seems to have come out of nowhere. That’s not exactly true. PFAS contamination has been known to be a problem. What's different is we’re discovering the problem is bigger than imagined.

In recent months, the State of Michigan has found several places where drinking water and fish are contaminated by a class of chemicals called PFAS. This pollution is coming from a variety of sources.

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

When Peter Annin, director of the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College, was completing research for an updated version of his book The Great Lakes Water Wars, he discovered a detail about Great Lakes water diversions that had gone unnoticed for 8 years.

According to his findings, the state of Wisconsin never announced that in 2010, it approved the village of Pleasant Prairie's request to extract seven million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan, the largest water diversion in the state.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Riding a bike to work might be good for the environment, but automobile drivers are still getting used to the idea of sharing the road. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The elk is an important Michigan symbol. It’s even on our state flag. But have you ever seen an elk in the wild in Michigan?  Did you even know there are elk in Michigan?

A monarch butterfly at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The monarch butterflies that are emerging right now in Michigan have a long trip ahead of them.

A whitefish survey
Morgan Springer

Lake whitefish are the most important commercial fish species in Michigan.

But in the last decade, state biologists say fishers are harvesting about a third of what they used to get. The catch dropped to 1.7 million pounds last year, down from five million pounds in the early 2000s.

Agencies across the Great Lakes are trying to learn more about the population decline.  

A painting of a house sparrow.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes/USFWS

The creatures that live with us in cities – things like spiders, owls, lizards and mice – are evolving over time.

A new set of studies in a special issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B looks at all kinds of organisms that thrive in cities and how city life affects the ways they evolve.

Diane Episcopio, courtesy of Oliver Stringham

Researchers have found that some of the most common reptiles and amphibians that people own as pets are also the most likely to be released into the wild.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Public health experts want us to pay more attention to the effects of climate change on kids.

A mosquito
flickr user trebol-a / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Many Americans are ok with genetic engineering of animals if it benefits human health. But a lot of people oppose other uses of the technology. Those are the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey.

Matt Allender

We have a rattlesnake in Michigan called the eastern massasauga. It’s listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

One of the threats it’s facing is a disease called snake fungal disease, and it can kill the snakes. 

Researchers have figured out some clues about how the pathogen affects the snakes.

Kara Holsopple

The global market for recycling has changed dramatically over the last year, and it’s already trickling down to what happens at the curb.

USGS

Water use in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest level in about 45 years.

But the U.S. Geological Survey found 12 states accounted for more than 50% of the total water withdrawals in the U.S. – and Michigan ranks 10th on that list.

Map of Michigan
Limnotech

Scientists are creating an experimental warning system for meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes.

Meteotsunamis are potentially dangerous waves that are driven by storms.

Eric Anderson is a physical oceanographer with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Meteotsunamis are a very particular kind of wave and we don’t yet have the ability to forecast when and where they’re going to occur,” he says.

Dan Dillon

Methane is one of the big three greenhouse gasses, next to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Peter Groffman is a professor at the City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center, and a senior research fellow at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. 

“Its concentration in the atmosphere has been going up at a rather high rate since the Industrial Revolution,” he says.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Dry months of the year have been getting hotter in large parts of the U.S.

Felicia Chiang is the lead author of a new study on droughts and climate change, from the University of California-Irvine.

“Essentially we found that droughts are warming faster than the average climate in the southern, the midwestern and the northeastern states of the U.S.,” she says.

Photo by C. Daly, courtesy of Jo Latimore

If you’re out on a lake this summer and you stumble on a blob that looks like an alien life form, it could actually be a good thing.

Jo Latimore got an email recently about a weird-looking greenish-gray gelatinous blob that a boater found in Juno Lake in Cass County. Latimore is an aquatic ecologist at Michigan State University.

She says she got an email from the boater saying, “We found something that’s pretty gross attached to the bottom of one of our pontoon boats and we’re afraid of what it might be.”

EPA proposes new rule for asbestos

Jul 31, 2018
CDC

Asbestos is known to cause cancer. It’s banned for some uses in the U.S., but it’s not entirely banned.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new rule, and new ways to evaluate the safety of asbestos.

Monarch Butterfly
flickr user Paul VanDerWerf / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

It’s breeding season for monarch butterflies, and government officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico want your help collecting data on them.

The second International Monarch Monitoring Blitz is underway, now through Sunday, August 5.

Mara Koenig is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest Region. She says you can write down the number of monarch butterflies you see this week, and take a close look at any milkweed plants you find.

Takeout containers
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

There's a scene in the 1967 film The Graduate where a well-meaning friend of the family pulls Dustin Hoffman's character aside at his graduation party, and gives him this advice:

"There's a great future in plastics - think about it, will you think about it? ... That's a deal."

But back then, the downside of plastic wasn't apparent.

Wetland in Kalamazoo
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature is considering bills that would speed up wetland restoration in Michigan.

“Wetlands are nature’s answer to a lot of our societal woes that we’re facing right now,” says Gildo Tori, director of public policy for the Ducks Unlimited Great Lakes/Atlantic Region office. His group has been pushing for these new bills. He says the process for getting permits to restore degraded wetlands takes too long.

“We should be doing all we can to make it easier, quicker and more streamlined to get these wetlands back on the landscape,” he says.

CDC

More than 16,000 ticks have arrived in Nate Nieto’s mailbox.

He’s an associate professor of microbiology at Northern Arizona University, and he launched a citizen science project to learn more about the diseases ticks can transmit. 

People from 49 states sent him (and his collaborators at Colorado State University) the ticks they found on themselves or other people or dogs.

'Wind farm' takes on a new, and for some uncomfortable' meaning in Huron County
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Wind energy became popular because it can reduce the need for polluting coal and gas generated electricity. But, things are shifting now.

“The primary driver is economics,” said Stanley “Skip” Pruss with Five Lakes Energy, a consulting firm on sustainable energy.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

New tariffs are putting some Michigan newspapers and printers at risk of going out of business.

There’s more than a little irony in the fact that a state which built paper mills all over, no longer makes the kind of paper that newspapers use.

Courtesy: Alliance for the Great Lakes and Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.

How can cities reduce flooding caused by increasingly intense rain storms?

More often, it's flooding in areas not known for a lot of flooding in the past. That happened in Detroit in 2014. It caught everyone by surprise as interstates and neighborhoods were suddenly under water.

Pages