Environment & Science | Michigan Radio

Environment & Science


State wildlife officials say the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula remains “healthy and stable.”

The Department of Natural Resources completed its biennial wolf survey between December and March.

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

Last summer, Michigan saw its biggest recorded outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE. There were ten confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus in humans and five deaths. Could another EEE outbreak be on the horizon this year? Public health officials say it’s tough to tell.


Ann Arbor City Council members have voted unanimously to award the non-profit Recycle Ann Arbor a 10-year contract to run the city’s materials recovery facility.

The facility hasn’t sorted recyclables since 2016, when it was shut down for unsafe working conditions. 


Recycle Ann Arbor will raise and invest more than $5 million to upgrade the facility with high-tech machines like optic sorters and ballistic separators, says Bryan Ukena, the company’s CEO. 


lake michigan coastline
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Lakes Michigan and Huron have been at record levels for each month so far this year. But water levels are expected to decline before they reach the all-time high water mark.

Great Lakes water levels fluctuate throughout the year, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tracks records for each month.

Courtesy Ben van der Pluijm

A seismometer is a device that’s usually used to measure earthquakes using vibrations in the earth. But recently, researchers have been using them to measure human movement. A global study shows that seismic noise is at an all time low, as a result of COVID-19 related lockdowns.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Enbridge says damage that prompted the temporary shutdown of its underwater oil pipelines in a Great Lakes channel may have been done by vessels working for the company.

State of Michigan

Ten years ago, Enbridge Energy’s pipeline 6B split open near Marshall, Michigan. The EPA estimated more than a million gallons of oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. It was the biggest oil spill into an inland waterway in U.S. history.

Michigan Radio was on the ground that first week, and over the past decade, we have reported on the environmental ramifications and legal challenges that resulted from the spill.

Josh Otten holds a female northern map turtle, left, and a male northern map turtle near the Kalamazoo River in Galesburg.
Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Josh Otten sits in a kayak in the Kalamazoo River west of Battle Creek. He’s pulled up to the bank, holding a palm-sized, wriggling black-and-yellow-striped turtle. Otten turns it over, showing the dark lines and brown spots on its plastron (the underside of the shell). This is a northern map turtle, the most abundant species in the river.

Great blue heron covered in oil from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.
State of Michigan

One of the worst oil spills into an inland waterway in U.S. history happened right here in Michigan, 10 years ago this week.

It happened on a Sunday evening: 5:58 p.m. on July 25, 2010.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A new report looks at some of the most polluted beaches in Michigan. In 2019, several dozen of Michigan’s beaches tested were unsafe at one point or another.

While pollution from sewage and livestock farms on Michigan’s beaches has been getting better over the last couple of decades, recently, tests show a dip in progress. 

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

The state of Michigan wants Enbridge to promise it will cover costs from a potential oil spill in the channel that links two of the Great Lakes. Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichenger made the request Friday in a letter to the Canadian company. An Enbridge subsidiary pledged in 2018 to set aside about $1.8 billion to deal with a worst-case spill from its Line 5 pipes in the Straits of Mackinac. But the state says the subsidiary doesn't have enough money to fulfill that promise, and it's not clear that the parent company is bound by the pledge.

Ben Thorp

Nearly two months after a dam break and devastating flood buried the village of Sanford in water and mud, residents are doing their best to rebuild.

The streets are no longer covered in muck leftover from when the Sanford Lake emptied itself over the town. Instead, you can hear the sound of construction and the hum of generators.

Roger and Pam Riggie are the owners of Sanford Pizza. Standing outside their pizzeria, Pam peered through a broken window and described what she saw.

“Disaster and heartbreak,” she said. “But progress all at the same time.”

NEOWISE comet in the sky over France
Maxime Storm / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

For the first time in more than 20 years, there's a bright comet in the nighttime sky. Comet NEOWISE was discovered by a space probe in late March. But Kalamazoo Astronomical Society President Richard Bell says people can now see it after sunset.

"Just look below the 'Big Dipper,' between the 'Big Dipper' and the horizon, with binoculars probably first. You should be able to see it, so it should be an easy sight to see," he said. "But if it's nice and clear, you should be able to see the comet with no optical aid whatsoever, with just your eyes alone."

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation

An environmental group says Nestle's water bottling operations in Osceola Township are drying up two creeks.

Peggy Case, President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation says there are mud flats along parts of Twin and Chippewa Creeks, where people used to canoe.  She says surveys show that large trout are disappearing from the creeks.

"So at a time when the water is at high levels all over the state of Michigan -- drowning in water right now, rivers are high and lakes are high.  (But) Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek are not. They are quite low."

Illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The coronavirus is really really small. It measures around 120 nanometers. For context, the width of a single strand of human hair is somewhere around 75,000 nanometers. Under an electron microscope, the virus looks like a slightly blurry colorless orb.

So how do you get from a tiny, almost transparent virus under a microscope to the image of a red spiky orb we've come to associate with the novel coronavirus? We asked Deborah L. Gumucio, a professor emerita in Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan, that very question. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan firefighters have new rules for when they use firefighting foam containing industrial chemicals known as PFAS.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Western Lake Erie is expected to see only a moderate bloom of cyanobacteria this summer. The cyanobacteria can produce toxins that are harmful for people and pets.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and regional institutions predict the 2020 summer cyanobacterial bloom will be among the smallest since 2011.


A new study by University of Michigan researchers finds climate change may help Asian carp overcome another invasive species to gain a foothold in the Great Lakes.

The study looks at how three factors (climate change, nutrient management, and invasive mussels) have affected Lake Michigan's vulnerability to bighead and silver carp.  

straight-party voting
Lars Plougmann

A campaign to outlaw a controversial method of extracting oil and natural gas from the earth is asking a judge to strike down a Michigan election law. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is challenging the 180-day limit on signature-gathering. The group also wants a judge to set a deadline of July 26 for the state to act.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

State environmental officials say tests along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers are not showing recent floods caused dioxin and other contamination to spread.

In May, heavy rains and dam failures created a 500-year-flood in Midland County, including areas with histories of contamination from Dow Chemical.

Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A Michigan judge ruled Wednesday to keep a temporary restraining order against Enbridge in place while allowing the company to resume operations through the western leg of the Line 5 twin pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. 

Ingham County Circuit Judge James Jamo's order stops short of granting state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for an injunction against the company, instead extending and modifying the existing restraining order. 

Michigan Department of Transportation

Federal and state environmental agencies have agreed on a groundwater cleanup plan for a site in Madison Heights where a toxic green-ooze leaked onto I-696 last year.

The green ooze seeped from a former electroplating business.  

Since last December, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has collected more than a quarter million gallons of contaminated groundwater from the site.

work being done under Mackinac bridge

Lawyers sparred in court Tuesday over Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for a preliminary injunction against Enbridge Energy. 

The state is requesting a 14-day freeze on operations along Line 5 in the straits of Mackinac in order to review pipeline safety. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel requested the injunction on June 22 after Enbridge announced it had resumed operating the western leg of the Line 5 pipeline following the announcement of “significant damage” to the eastern portion of the line. 

work being done under Mackinac bridge

A Michigan regulatory agency has denied Enbridge's request for quick approval of its plan to put a replacement oil pipeline beneath a Great Lakes channel. The state Public Service Commission on Tuesday voted to conduct a full review of Enbridge's proposal.

The Morrow Dam drawdown is polluting the Kalamazoo River

Jun 29, 2020

The company that operates Morrow Dam near Comstock faces a state investigation for letting large amounts of sediment wash into the Kalamazoo River, endangering fish habitats and possibly kicking up contaminants, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

Lake Huron waves crashing
n_his_image / Adobe Stock

A Canadian company has officially ended efforts to place a low and intermediate-level nuclear waste storage facility near the shore of Lake Huron.

The decision comes after the Saugeen-Ojibway nation, on whose land the waste site was proposed, voted overwhelmingly against the project.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Enbridge had temporarily shut down Line 5 after discovering significant damage to an anchor support on one of the dual pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac. The company notified the state about the damage on Thursday, according to a statement from the governor's office. The source of the damage is currently unclear.

An overhead shot of the Oscoda-Wurtsmith airport
United States Geological Survey

After months of pressure from lawmakers and residents, the Air Force has announced it will take steps to address pollution coming from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base in Oscoda. 

Earlier this year calls for a cleanup intensified after the Air Force said it would use a $13.5 million congressional appropriation for more studies at the base. But some federal lawmakers said those funds had been appropriated for a cleanup. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Oscoda residents say they want more specifics about the U.S. Air Force’s latest plan to clean up PFAS contamination seeping from a former Air Force base.

Last week, the Air Force announced it plans to award a $13.5 million contract next month for capturing more of the industrial chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems. The Air Force says the contract will expand the capture fields already in place at the former fire training area and the Central Treatment System located on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The flood that was caused by heavy rains and the failure of two dams near Midland caused property damage far downstream. But the long term damage might be in the contamination of wildlife.