The Environment Report | Michigan Radio
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The Environment Report

The Environment Report, hosted by Lester Graham, explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

A man in coveralls bends over a hole in ice and pulls out a net.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

A decline in lake whitefish is pushing some tribal commercial fishermen out of Lakes Michigan and Huron. They’re spending more time in Lake Superior, the only place they say they can still make a living. This has fishermen and scientists worried about whether whitefish populations there can withstand the extra pressure.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state has finished testing all the public water systems in Michigan for PFAS chemicals. Of more than a thousand municipal systems, 119 are contaminated by PFAS. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A lot of people assume a healthy diet is also good for the environment. A recently published study lends some credence to that conventional wisdom.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bees are disappearing. You might have heard that colony collapse disorder of European honeybees can nearly wipe out a hive. But native bees are also in trouble. 

There are several kinds of bumblebees in Michigan. A recent survey found during the last 20 years, there were a dozen that were fairly common.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The partial federal government shutdown could have wide-ranging consequences for the Great Lakes. There already are some problems, but things could get worse if the shutdown drags on.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A combination of state and federal proposals to change protections of wetlands and streams could damage waterways. 

The Trump administration proposes to strip some protections from wetlands and other bodies of water. State legislators propose removing protections for wetlands smaller than ten acres. They also don’t want Michigan agencies to exceed federal rules.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Some cities in Michigan could lose half of all their trees due to disease or pests. Foresters are working to reduce the potential devastation.

“So, I just wanted to show you, this is a neighborhood with old maple trees," Kerry Gray said as she led the way down a tree-lined street in Ann Arbor. She's the urban forester for the city. She’s worried about losing a lot of the city’s trees to a pest or disease. It’s happened before.

Courtesy: Michigan Saves

Soon, you’ll start seeing your energy bills start to rise each month because of the cold weather. That’s never fun. But, you might be paying a lot more than necessary to heat your home. We decided to look into whether a new efficient furnace adds up to much in the way of energy savings.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State agencies in Michigan have issued a ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory for deer in Oscoda Township near the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

The state tested deer tissue from areas across the state known to have PFAS chemical contamination, including places such as Grayling, Rockford, and Oscoda Township.

Do not eat the fish because of pfas sign
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.

PFAS sites in Michigan
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.

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