Rebecca Williams | Michigan Radio
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Rebecca Williams

Senior Editor, News

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage. She's been with Michigan Radio for 18 years, and she's spent most of that time as a reporter and producer, and host of the Environment Report.

Rebecca has a degree in resource ecology and management from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment, where she had close encounters with escaped boars and poison sumac.

She’s won several national awards for her work including a national Edward R. Murrow award for a documentary, Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future that she reported with Mark Brush and Lester Graham, and she shared in the prestigious duPont-Columbia and Scripps Howard awards for team coverage of the Flint water crisis.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

A majority of Americans say the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect air and water quality.

That’s the latest from a national Pew Research Center survey.

The survey found 69 percent of Americans think the government isn’t doing enough to safeguard water quality, while 64 percent say the government isn't doing enough to protect air quality. 

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

We’re coming up on the time of year when people will be testing lakes for toxic blooms of cyanobacteria.

Jason Deglint wants to speed up that testing process. Right now, he says it can take at least a few days.

The Marmorkreb, or marbled crayfish, can clone itself.
Golden library, courtesy of the MDEQ.

There are five new invasive species on the “least wanted list.”

That’s a list the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers puts together. The leaders of the eight states and two provinces on the Lakes decide which species pose the highest risk.

Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

A lot of cities have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

That could mean things like cleaner busses – or energy efficiency. But a sizable chunk of our carbon footprint can be traced to how we get and use our food.

Michal Pech on Unsplash

Air quality has gotten better in the U.S. over the last several decades.

But more recently, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions have not been decreasing the way people expected.

Microbeads on a penny.
Courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute

Microplastic pollution appears to affect creatures at the bottom of the food web the most. That’s one of the main takeaways from an analysis of 43 studies looking at the effects of microplastics on aquatic life.

Microplastics are tiny beads that get into waterways from our consumer products or tiny fibers that wash out of our clothing.

The Great Lakes from space.
NASA

Republicans who correct misinformation on climate change can be even more persuasive than scientists.

Eric Jones / USGS

Some people in Michigan could feel the earthquake that happened last week in Ontario.

It turns out, earthquakes east of the Rockies can be felt much farther away than earthquakes out West.

Oliver Boyd is a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study found fruits and vegetables were the category of food Americans throw away the most.
FDA

In the U.S., we waste about a pound of food per person per day. The things we throw away the most often? Fruits and vegetables.

Lisa Jahns is a research nutritionist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. She’s an author of a new study looking at American diets and what we throw away.

“Healthier diets were linked to greater food waste,” she says.

Sybil Kolon
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

In Michigan, we have laws in place that give the state the power to essentially rope off polluted areas instead of cleaning them up. Instead, those laws tell the public: don’t drink the water or build your house here.

There are land use restrictions at more than 2,000 sites around Michigan. Officials say they are necessary at sites with environmental contamination to keep people from coming into contact with harmful chemicals.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

 

At more than 1,600 sites across the state of Michigan, you can’t drink the groundwater. Well, you could, but it wouldn’t be safe or legal.

A snapshot of BirdCast's migration forecast.
Kyle Horton

People who study birds are now using radar to make maps that can forecast migration at night. They say these maps could help by reducing the number of birds that collide with buildings and wind turbines.

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

Polychlorinated biphenyls are toxic chemicals that were widely used in industry until they were banned in the 1970s.

PCBs can build up in fish.

A new study finds that levels of PCBs are declining in the air in the Great Lakes region. Except for one kind. It’s called PCB-11 and its levels are holding steady.

If you see the old label on the left, the piece of upholstered furniture likely contains flame retardants. If you see the new label on the right, it will tell you for sure whether it contains flame retardants.
Mark Brush and Arlene Blum

Flame retardant chemicals are in our furniture, in carpet padding, electronics and car seats, but they don’t stay put. They leach out of these products and get into our bodies.

Some of these chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, were phased out of use starting in 2004.

A new study in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology finds levels of PBDEs in kids' blood have been declining.

A packed public comments hearing on the recent Nestle permit.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Michigan DEQ has approved a permit from Nestle Waters North America to increase the amount of groundwater it pumps from its well near Evart, Michigan.

The state says Nestle has to complete a monitoring plan and submit it to the DEQ for approval. After that happens, Nestle will be authorized to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from its White Pine Springs well.

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

When you think about greenhouse gasses that are driving our warming climate, maybe you think about power plants or your car. But lakes can release greenhouse gasses, too, and the amount of nutrients that get into lakes from farms and cities matters.

Sea lamprey
Photo courtesy of USFWS

People who battle sea lampreys are happy with the big spending bill President Trump signed on Friday.

Lampreys are an invasive fish that drink the blood and body fluids of fish like lake trout and salmon.

Marc Gaden is the communications director for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. 

“For lamprey control there’s $7 million [in] additional funds and that will be used primarily for lamprey infrastructure,” he says.

Gaden says that infrastructure includes things like barriers and traps.

Marty Heller

Just 20% of Americans are responsible for 46% of the food-related greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. That’s one of the findings of a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

A majority of Americans now say all levels of government need to act on climate change.

That’s one finding from the latest survey in a series of National Surveys on Energy and Environment.

CDC

It’s been a tough flu season. Health experts are always looking for ways to outsmart the influenza virus.

David Brenner thinks he’s found a new way: a type of ultraviolet light called far-UVC.

water faucet
Flickr user Bart / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Low-income, rural areas are the most vulnerable to drinking water quality violations that could affect people’s health, according to a new nationwide study.

A cyanobacterial bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

An advisory board with the International Joint Commission says the U.S. and Canada should do more to keep nutrient pollution out of Lake Erie.

Sampling locations in the Great Lakes region.
USGS/courtesy of Michelle Hladik

Insecticides widely used on farms, lawns and gardens — known as neonicotinoids — are showing up in rivers across the Great Lakes region.

Piping plovers.
Roger Eriksson

Piping plovers are little white and gray shorebirds. You might’ve seen them running around on the beach.

Sarah Saunders is a post-doctoral researcher at Michigan State University.

“The majority of the piping plovers in the Great Lakes region nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes,” she says. “The chicks look like little fluffy cotton balls on toothpicks because their legs are really long and they’re very cute. And they make a very high pitched piping noise.”

The latest influenza map from the CDC.
CDC

Health experts say we can catch the flu if someone coughs near us. But now there’s evidence we can spread the influenza virus into the air just by breathing.

Waves on Lake Michigan.
Nathaniel May / UM

Scientists have found organic matter from toxic blooms in the Great Lakes can get airborne.

Andrew Ault is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, in the departments of environmental health sciences and chemistry. He’s an author of a new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“Anytime a wave breaks on the ocean or in a lake, you push bubbles below the surface. When those come up, they burst and that bursting process essentially, ends up leading to aerosols being formed,” he says.

Donna Dewhurst / USFWS

A new study in the journal Science finds there are genetic differences in yellow warblers that live in different parts of the U.S. and Canada, and some of those populations seem to be more genetically vulnerable to climate change than others.

Rachael Bay is the lead author of the study, at the University of California-Davis.

“We did some genome sequencing and we found a bunch of genes that seem to be associated with whether yellow warblers live in warmer or drier or hotter or colder areas," she says.

Ryan Utz / Chatham University

There’s too much salt getting into our rivers and streams.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds over the past 50 years, freshwater systems across the country have become saltier, and that can cause problems for people, wildlife and our infrastructure.

FLICKR USER USFWS MIDWEST / FLICKR / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Scientists might have found a new way to combat white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungus killing millions of bats in the U.S. and Canada.

Ben Abbott / Courtesy MSU

Streams can tell us a lot about the health of an ecosystem. But some researchers say we can do a better job of paying attention to those streams.

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