Wednesday, December 24, 2008

100,000 Gallons a day are one click away

Clinton Township-On December 8, MSU’s Institute of Water Research introduced the new rules and regulations being implemented for large-scale water withdrawals. This is part of a series of workshops going on around the state. The next meeting is January 22, 2009 in West Olive.

The Institute of Water Research has created a first of its kind website that allows users to quickly see if a water withdrawal is possible. The website can instantly grant or deny access. If you are denied access then you can try from a different point on your property. Sometimes a different part of your property may be in a different watershed.

Michigan is the only state to have a website that manages all of the large-scale water withdrawals. A large-scale water withdrawal is defined as any daily withdrawal exceeding 100,000 gallons a day.

The website is based on existing data and a combination of three different models.

With an interactive map the user can zoom into their property and choose where they want to sink a well and how much water they want to withdraw. You then click a button and within moments you are told whether you can proceed with the withdrawal or not.

The USGS only monitors 142 different sites, so the rest of the 13,000 river segments have to be predicted according to the stream type and the index flow. The index flow is the median flow for the month of the lowest water levels. There are 11 different stream types in Michigan and they all have different amounts of water that can be withdrawn before it negatively affects the ecosystem.

The way that they are determining ecological harm is by whether or not characteristic fish are harmed by the proposed water withdrawal.

The online tool naturally underreports the water that is available. Since they don’t know the amount of error when combining all three of these models, they are only making half of the amount of the water available on the website.

There are four zones A-D. Zone A means there will not be an adverse impact on the ecosystem, while zone B means there will not be much of an impact on the ecosystem. Any withdrawal that falls into the C or D range will not be authorized by the website. Anybody that keeps falling into the C or D range can have the MDEQ come out free of charge to do an onsite assessment.

If the MDEQ issues a permit to anyone falling into the Zone B or C range they will have to place a notice on their website and notify other water users in that community. The MDEQ ruling can also be legally challenged by the person proposing the withdrawal or by a third party.

It is important for everyone with wells to register them with the MDEQ by February 1, 2009. After that the MDEQ will be actively seeking those who have not registered. The law officially goes into place July 9, 2009. Any wells that existed prior to February 28, 2006 are grandfathered in. Whether they cause ecological harm or not they can continue to operate. Any new wells have to receive a permit before they are installed.

The main reason that the rules are being updated on water withdrawals is due to the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says: “To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with Indian tribes.” This ignited an argument over who should regulate water, the states or Washington? The states won this argument and now water regulations are being updated in Michigan and other states throughout the Midwest. This all has a lot to do with the recent passing of the Great Lakes Compact, the legislation protecting the Great Lakes from water diversions. The states have to show initiative in managing their resources or Washington will do it for them.

Michigan's Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool

By Jason Tafilowski

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"In Ohio, Rumblings About Pet Coke "

Investigative journalist Glen Puit has written a very in depth story for the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service on the negative effects of pet coke power plants on neighborhoods in Ohio. Pet coke is a cheaper way to generate power but it is much dirtier.

According to the article: "Burning pet coke, according to an industrial trade association, produces about 50 percent more ash than burning coal, and that ash contains many toxic heavy metals. And, according to federal records that track U. S. power plant emissions, burning petroleum coke also increase smokestack gases that experts say can cause or worsen certain lung and heart problems and produce acid rain."

It is important to consider all of the economic and health implications of the proposed plant as the public comment period winds down to a close. The MDEQ will hold one last public hearing on January 6, before they issue a decision to grant an air permit for the proposed pet coke power plant in Roger's City.

In Ohio, Rumblings About Pet Coke

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mining Madness, Water Wars: The Great Lakes in the Balance

The new documentary about Kennecott's attempt to sulfide mine in the Yellow Dog plains in the Upper Peninsula is available for viewing on the National Wildlife Federation website. Copies are also available for only $5.

View Now: Mining Madness, Water Wars: The Great Lakes in the Balance


Save the Wild UP

Monday, December 8, 2008

JS: "Little city is at center of a great debate"

The city of Superior Wisconsin is in the planning stages of building one of the nation's largest refineries, making the midwest a major player in importing and refining foreign oil.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Little city is at center of great debate

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"New oil pipeline across Minnesota approved"

From the Star Tribune:

New oil pipeline across Minnesota approved

"Minnesota energy regulators gave their approval Tuesday to a new pipeline that will come out of Canada carrying crude oil across northern Minnesota and on to Wisconsin.

The unanimous decision by the five-member Public Utilities Commission followed a pitch from U.S.-based affiliates of Enbridge Inc., that the 1,000-mile pipeline will help supply the north central United States with reliable energy from a friendly neighbor, at a time of volatile petroleum prices and growing demand by a growing population."

This ruling comes amidst concerns that the Canadian tar sands are exporting pollution to the Great Lakes states. The refining process of oil from the tar sands takes one barrel of oil to produce three barrels of oil. Throughout the Great Lakes region there are several projects aimed at refining tar sands oil.

How the Oil Sands Got to the Great Lakes Basin

Workshops Explain Michigan's Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool

There will be three workshops located throughout Michigan to explain Michigan's water withdrawal assessment tool. The workshops explain the guidelines for large scale withdrawals of 100,000 gallons or more per day of surface or groundwater. The event is being put on by the MSU Institute of Water Research.

The workshops will also show the new online assessment tool that allows potential users to apply for large water withdrawals online.

I reported about this back in March: Scrutinizing Michigan's Assessment Tool

Register Here

West-Central Michigan

Seating limited to 40
Only -12 Seats left!

December 4
Montcalm Community College
Panhandle Area Center
5856 Federal Road
Howard City, MI 49329

Local Contact: Jim Breinling

Southeast Michigan
Site Registration List
Seating limited

December 8
Macomb Intermediate School District
Educational Service Center
44001 Garfield
Clinton Twp., MI 48038-1100

Local Contact: Terry Gibb

Ottawa County Michigan
Seating limited

January 22, 2009
Ottawa County Fillmore Complex Admin Bldg Main Conference Room
12220 Fillmore St.
West Olive, MI 49460

Local Contact: Tom Dudek

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Separating the Mississippi from the Great Lakes?

The Alliance for the Great Lakes released a report today about the "ecological separation" of the Mississippi river from the Great Lakes. The call for action comes amid the floundering electric carp barrier in the Chicago River. The electric Carp barrier is still not allowed to be turned on to its full capacity because of safety concerns. Meanwhile, the biggest fear is that the Asian carp will invade the Great lakes. The Asian carp can grow up to 100 pounds and can eat 20 percent of its body weight in plankton. The fish would also disrupt recreational boating since it has a tendency to jump out of the water when it hears boat motors.

Though the proposal would be very expensive it would ensure a 100 percent effectiveness on aquatic invasive species. The only other major source of invasive species that would be left to deal with would be coming to a consensus with Canada on how to regulate the ballast water of ships.

Chicago’s electric carp barrier hits a snag

Conservation group urges separation of Great Lakes, Mississippi basin waters

Alliance for the Great Lakes Press Release

Alliance for the Great Lakes Report on the ecological separation of the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Donation raises questions for head of FDA’s bisphenol A panel

From a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Investigation

A retired medical supply manufacturer who considers bisphenol A to be “perfectly safe” gave $5 million to the research center of Martin Philbert, chairman of the Food and Drug Association panel about to make a pivotal ruling on the chemical’s safety.
Read on

Ann Arbor News: FDA to look into issue involving University of Michigan professor

Friday, October 10, 2008

EPA to hold open house on the Kennecott mine proposal

The following is a press release from the EPA:

EPA holds open house on Kennecott Mine proposal

(Chicago, Ill. - Oct. 9, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold an open house on October 22 to answer questions about the federal role in regulating the proposed mine and the underground injection control permit application submitted by Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company. The open house will be held at the Holiday Inn, 1951 U.S. Highway 41, West Marquette, Mich. There will be three sessions from 9 to 11 a.m., 1 to 3 p.m., and 6 to 9 p.m.

Kennecott proposes to dispose of treated wastewater as part of a nickel and copper sulfide mining operation within the Yellow Dog Plains of northwestern Marquette County. EPA notified the company that any underground disposal system at the mining site must comply with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act's federal Underground Injection Control program before construction and operation. The Safe Drinking Water Act is intended to protect underground sources of drinking water.

The UIC permitting process for the underground disposal system is EPA's only direct regulatory role in the Eagle mine project. EPA is conducting a technical evaluation of the permit application and supporting documents and expects to issue a draft decision before the end of the year. EPA will accept public comments and hold a public hearing when the draft decision is announced.

A copy of the permit application and more information about the Eagle mine project and the underground injection control program is available here

Other recent Kennecott news:

From Save the Wild UP: U.S. Fish and Wildlife requests EPA delay on Kennecott mine

From Save the Wild UP: Kennecott lacks state, Federal permits to proceed with mine plan

From the Michigan Land Use Institute: Mining Company Lobbied Hard in U.P., Lansing

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New Report: "How the Oil Sands Got To The Great Lakes Basin"

As the price of oil has skyrocketed, new techniques of extracting oil are emerging. The tar sands of Alberta Canada are promising huge profits as the energy intensive oil extraction is now profitable. Right now 1.3 million barrels are being exported daily, this number is expected to increase to 3.5 million barrels a day by 2011 and eventually to 5 million barrels a day by 2030. This would turn Canada into one of the oil giants.

The problem with extracting oil from the tar sands is that it produces three times the amount of greenhouse gases than producing a regular barrel of oil. It is easily one of the dirtiest energy solutions around.

According to a report released today by The University of Toronto's Munk Centre entitled: "How the Oil Sands Got To The Great Lakes Basin," Canadian company Enbridge who is one of the major players in energy and oil transport are proposing a new network of pipelines and expansion of refineries to be located throughout the Great Lakes region.

This includes: "significantly expanding the refineries in Indiana, next to Chicago, as well as in other states and possibly Sarnia, Ontario." The Canadian oil industry has requested "more capacity out of the oil sands and into the U.S. Midwest markets." This would mean that crude oil would be piped to the Great Lakes region and would then have to be refined here, the results would mean more pollution in the Great Lakes region.

The report lists 17 major refinery expansions that are now either being considered, or already underway. Some of these include:

• Illinois (Conoco Phillips in Wood River, Exxon-Mobil in Joliet, and Marathon
Robinson in Robinson)
• Indiana (BP Products North America Inc. in Whiting)
• Kentucky (Marathon Petroleum Co. LLC in Cattletsburg)
• Michigan (Marathon Petroleum Co. LLC in Detroit)
• Minnesota (Marathon Petroleum Co. LLC in St. Paul Park)
• Ohio (BP Products North America Inc/Husky Energy Inc. in Toledo)
• Wisconsin (Murphy Oil USA Inc. in Superior)
• Ontario (Suncor in Sarnia).

One of the examples of increased air pollution is already being felt in Whiting, Indiana at British Petroleum's (BP) $3.8 billion refinery expansion. BP has applied for permits to increase daily discharges of suspended solids from 3,646 pounds per day to 4,925 pounds per day. Other byproducts that come with refining oil to gasoline is ammonia and sludge.

Other regional concerns included through the report are:

"the region already endures some of the worst pollution in Canada or 131,000 tonnes of air pollution a year. Industrial waste from Chemical Valley has feminized male snapping turtles in the St Clair River, turned 45 per cent of the whitefish in Lake St Clair 'intersexual' and exposed 2,000 members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation to a daily cocktail of 105 carcinogens and gender benders. The Ojibway [members of a First Nation who live in the area] are not faring much better than the snapping turtles or whitefish. In fact the number of newborn girls outnumbers boys by two to one on the reserve. Two thirds of the children have asthma while 40 percent of the women experience miscarriages. Calls for a thorough federal investigation have gone largely unheeded. Environment Canada never bothered to do a cumulative impact study and probably no responsible authority ever will."

"In Wood River, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri, ConocoPhillips seeks to process Alberta Tar sands oil from EnCana Corporation as part of a $15 billion expansion that would also send processing to Texas. This project has been challenged by the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council; in June, 2008, the U.S. EPA determined that its Illinois counterpart didn’t adequately address air pollution questions raised during the permit process and reopened the project to further public comment."

"In Superior, Wisconsin, Murphy Oil is studying an oil sands-related expansion that citizens fear could damage 300 to 500 acres of wetlands. The project will consume 5 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan and boost the refinery’s energy demand 12-fold; the filling of the wetlands, according to one environmentalist, will be 'the largest wetlands filling in Wisconsin since the passage of the U.S. Clean Water Act
of 1972.'"

"In Detroit, a Marathon refinery is awaiting its final expansion permits; unlike other projects, this refinery does not discharge directly into the Great Lakes, but pre-treats its waste and then sends it to Detroit’s municipal treatment system before discharge. However, Detroit is already among the worst 10 (ranked ninth) U.S. cities for short-term particle pollution (the microscopic solids and liquid droplets that are often linked directly with health problems). In Toledo, Ohio, BP has an agreement with a Canadian company to expand its refinery and split the profits from processing oil sands, although no official
permit applications have been filed yet."

The report defines this pipeline as a pollution delivery system and uses a conservative estimate that this will bring an additional 2.3 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gas emissions a year, as well as "large-scale sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions – the building blocks of acid rain – as well as fine particulate matter, which is responsible for premature deaths. In addition, refineries use millions of litres of water per day. It is also worth noting that these would be refinery expansions, not replacements – in many, if not most cases, the old refineries with increasingly antiquated abatement equipment would be running side by side with the new expansion facilities."

Report: How the Oil Sands Got To The Great Lakes Basin

Live Webcast from the University of Toronto on How the Oil Sands Got To The Great Lakes Basin

Globe and Mail story: Oil sands will pollute Great Lakes, report warns

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Should water be a commodity or a human right?

As the Great Lakes Compact works its way towards President Bush's desk, Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) has been getting a lot of press lately for opposing the compact.

Stupak is concerned with water being defined as a commodity. Language in the current compact allows water to be exported in containers no larger than 5.7 gallons.

While the current language protects large water withdrawals, the fear is that current U.S. free trade agreements could strike down this arbitrary limit to the amount of water that can be taken from the Great Lakes if water is seen as a commodity.

The bigger controversy worldwide is over whether water should be considered a commodity and opened up to the free market, or is a human right that everyone deserves access to. In other words, who delivers the water and should they be able to profit from it?

The Economist has a debate going on right now over the following proposal: "Water, as a scarce resource, should be priced according to its market value."

The debate is between market advocate Steve J. Hoffmann, Managing Director of WaterTech Capital and co-founder of Palisades Water Index Associates and water rights advocate Vandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy.

Steve J. Hoffmann's opening statement.

Vandana Shiva's opening statement.

Participate in the debate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Water Front begins a Great Lakes tour on Friday at Marygrove College

Liz Miller's documentary The Water Front begins a 20 city tour around the Great Lakes when it premieres on Friday at Marygrove College in the Madame Cadillac Dining Room at 8425 W McNichols road at 6:30 pm.

In 2004 Highland Park was in the midst of state receivership, so the state sent in an emergency financial consultant. One of the solutions for getting Highland Park out of the red was to sell off the cities' biggest asset, their water plant. Highland park unlike most of the other surrounding Detroit areas has its own water intake pipe. The idea of selling the water plant was met with fierce resistance by residents. Many were angry by the steep increase in water bills. Some people were receiving water bills as high as $4500 and $9000. Many of the people felt that the financial consultants were trying to pass on the costs of years of mismanagement to Highland Park residents. When the people couldn't pay, their water would be shut off and this legally makes your house condemned. The film follows the issue and provides a balanced look at the issue, interviewing all sides: the activists, residents, and financial consultants.

Water Front Preview:

Here is a recent interview with Liz Miller about her documentary, The Water Front.

Food and Water Watch: Sponsor of the tour

WDET Detroit Today interview with Water Front Associate Producer Curtis Smith and local bluesman Joe Carter who wrote music for the movie

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How the local waterways fared from last week's downpour

It has long been common practice for rainwater to be diverted to city drains. This is largely a consequence of urbanization and the accompanying pavement. Rather than have rainwater be absorbed back into the ground, it goes into the sewer system and becomes the cities' problem and must be dealt with by the local wastewater treatment plant. These systems get overloaded when large storms occur and the end result is that the sewers overflow sewage into the waterways. There are two types of overflows, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs).

CSOs are when sewer systems use the same pipe for raw sewage and rainwater. When there are heavy rains these pipes get overwhelmed and the sewage goes into our local waterways or goes into a CSO retention basin and is partially treated and then released into our waterways.

A good explanation of CSO retention treatment basins comes from the MDEQ Annual CSO Report (2000-2001):

“Many combined sewer systems have recently installed treatment facilities (called retention/treatment basins), which are designed to capture the combined sewage and rainwater long enough to provide initial treatment and disinfection. This initial treatment often involves allowing solids to settle, the skimming of floatable materials such as oils; and disinfection of disease causing organisms, often accomplished through the addition of chlorine. This combined rainwater and sewage wastewater, with chlorine disinfection is the typical treated CSO discharge in the state of Michigan; therefore, many CSO releases are considered partially treated sewage. The treatment provided significantly reduces the amount of pollutants discharged and the associated public health risk.”

SSOs are generally a broken pipe or equipment malfunction, unlike a CSO these are illegal and you cannot get a permit for these. SSOs generally releases raw sewage that gets no treatment at all.

Some areas in Metro Detroit received over 5 inches of rain last week, so how did the local waterways fair?

All of these incidents occured between September 13-15, the counties that were looked at were Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair.

This list is for releases of partially treated sewage into our local waterways:

Lake St. Clair: 208.05 million gallons
Milk River: 86.199 million gallons
Rouge River: 71.67 million gallons
St. Clair River: 14.75 million gallons
Clinton River: 1.16 million gallons

This list is for releases of raw sewage:

St. Clair River: 3.75 million gallons
Clinton River: 1.92 million gallons
Rouge River: .517 million gallons

The Detroit Waste Water Treatment Plant released 62.41 million gallons of blended effluent into the Trenton Channel.

1 Million gallons of diluted raw sewage was released into the Detroit River.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New economic plan could bring over half a million jobs to the Great Lakes states

A new report by the Center for American Progress details an economic plan that would help turn around the ailing economy and provide much needed green infrastructure and investment.

This program would create nearly 2 million jobs nationwide and would reduce the unemployment rate from 5.7 percent to 4.4 percent. The plan focuses on six different areas: Retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing 'smart' electrical grid transmission systems, wind power, solar power, and next-generation biofuels.

According to the report: "This economic recovery program combines the $100 billion fiscal stimulus with an additional credit stimulus-through a federal loan guarantee program to boost private-sector investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy." The plan would be about the same cost as the economic stimulus checks that went out last April.

Other key benefits identified throughout the report are: Widespread employment gains, lower unemployment, renewed construction and manufacturing work, more stable oil prices, and self-financing energy efficiency.

The new Center for American Progress report can be found here:

Green jobs: A program to create good jobs and start building a low-carbon economy

Find out how your state will benefit: State fact sheet

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

40 percent of all North American freshwater fish face extinction

A new report led by the United States Geological Survey finds that 40 percent of all North American fish face extinction. The research was published in the journal Fisheries.

The report lists 700 species as imperiled, this is a 92 percent increase since the previous 1989 report that listed 364 species as imperiled.

The USGS has a very useful interactive map of all of the imperiled fish species that can be viewed by ecoregions or by political boundaries.

USGS and the American Fisheries Society interactive map

ENS Story: North American Freshwater Fishes Fading into Extinction

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Using Green Infrastructure to Stop Combined Sewer Overflows

The Canadian environmental organization Ecojustice released a report on Tuesday focusing on preventing rainwater from entering our sewer systems. Most big cities had their sewer systems built in the early 1900's. When they were built raw sewage and storm water used the same sewer, this is called a Combined Sewer. Most are serving larger populations than was ever originally intended, so as a consequence, when it rains they overflow and release sewage into our waterways.

Though the report focuses primarily on Ontario, the suggestions of green infrastructure which they define as “an interconnected network of natural areas that maintain natural ecological processes,” can be applied anywhere. Many of the solutions presented in the report are alternatives to hard infrastructure solutions that are often prohibitive due to high costs. An example of a costly hard infrastructure solution is overhauling a large cities' sewer system. It gets real expensive real fast.

Another problem identified in the report is Canada's lack of public reporting. In Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) reports every Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) that happens. That is not the case in Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) collects some information on CSOs but the data is often inconsistent and rarely provides a full and accurate picture of what is going on. Some of the federal and provincial government data does not even contain volumes for the amount of the CSO. This distorts the overall effect of CSOs on the Great Lakes since it is somewhat of a mystery of the total number of sewage entering the Great Lakes.

A 2006 report by Ecojustice graded Windsor the third worst in CSOs for major cities in the Great Lakes basin. So all we really know is that the problem is bad. We can only guess just how bad it is.

The Ecojustice report is using an innovative way of tackling the problem since it aims at a more direct solution of limiting the amount of water that gets into the sewer systems, and provides options that are affordable and practical and provide aesthetic value to communities.

Many of the solutions suggested are beginning to be implemented in many big cities across the country such as Chicago, Toronto, and Portland that have implemented on a large scale many of the Ecojustice suggestions such as green rooftops, rain barrels, permeable sidewalks and roads, and bio-retention areas. The aim of all those measures is to "get the rain out of the drain" as the report succinctly put it.

Even locally people are starting to implement some of these suggestions as well. The Detroit Free Press recently reported that a green roof is being constructed in Auburn Hills over the gun range at the Public Safety Department.

The report provides several case studies of what cities are doing to reduce water from overwhelming sewer systems and water treatment plants and leading to CSOs.

Green Cities, Great Lakes: The Green Infrastructure Report

Friday, August 22, 2008

Holy Shit!

Jeff Alexander the Muskegon Chronicle recently reported that the amount of sewage overflows in Michigan overall is down by 30 percent, which is great, optimism is important when dealing with environmental issues.

But...According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality 88 percent of all of the raw and partially treated sewage that entered our waterways in 2007 was from Detroit. 23 billion gallons of raw sewage entered Metro Detroit waterways as a result of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). Most old sewers in big cities use the same sewer system for sewage and stormwater. When there are heavy rains it causes the sewer system to overflow and release sewage into the local waterways. These events are referred to as Combined Sewer Overflows or (CSOs).

The current numbers speak for themselves. Detroit released 23 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage in 2007 while the rest of Michigan only released 3 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage. What's worse is this doesn't account for the CSOs that occur in Windsor.

A recent Great Lakes Sewage Report Card by the Sierra Legal fund graded major cities in the Great Lakes on how much sewage they released into the waterways. Detroit was rated number one, while Windsor was number three, a double whammy.

We need to do better, the lakes are the entire regions biggest asset and will be the key to economic revitilization.

Other article of interest:

Speaker: Stop using Great Lakes as lavatory

The Crappies

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Conservation groups warn of hole in ballast water bill"

Environmental groups are urging Wisconsin Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl to oppose the Coast Guard Authorization Act. At issue is whether the law would force the ships to comply with the Clean Water Act. The proposed law that is currently in the U.S. Senate does not require compliance with the Clean Water Act. Also at issue is the lax time frame that may not require some ships to upgrade to better ballast water treatment systems until as late as 2021.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Conservation groups warn of hole in ballast water bill

Friday, July 25, 2008

Inaction on Climate Change Could Cost Michigan Billions

A study by the University of Maryland finds that climate change will cost a number of states billions of dollars. According to the study Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois should expect to lose billions if the issue is not dealt with. The report summarizes in these terms:

"Michigan: Billions of dollars in losses from damage to the state's shipping and water resources. Warmer temperatures and lower water levels predicted for much of the state."

"Ohio: Billions of dollars in losses from warmer temperatures and lower water levels and the resulting impact on shipping and water supplies."

"Illinois: "Billions of dollars in losses from impact on shipping, trade and water resources. Warmer temperatures and lower water levels predicted for much of the state.:

The above quotes are from a Sciencedaily Story

Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Michigan

Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Ohio

Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Illinois

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Deadly Denial: Nuclear Weapons Workers Left to Die

In a special series the Rocky Mountain news reveals how cold war nuclear weapons workers who risked their safety must fight for compensation.

Deadly Denial

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Feingold won't rule out overseas shipping ban to protect Great Lakes

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Feingold won't rule out overseas shipping ban to protect Great Lakes

Naomi Klein on Democracy Now!

Naomi Klein, the author of the Shock Doctrine explains how the Bush Administration is exploiting the current oil crises as a way to open offshore drilling. The current "shock" of high gas prices are being used to falsely sell Americans the idea that by opening up offshore drilling the price of gas will go down. Offshore drilling has historically been unpopular with the American public but with consumers being squeezed with high gas prices, people are willing to believe anything.

Also discussed is the next largest oil empire: Canada.

The Guardian: Canadians ponder cost of rush for dirty oil

Rolling Stone story: China's All-Seeing Eye

Democracy Now!

"Cosmic Markdown: EPA Says Life Is Worth Less"

The EPA recently lowered the value of an American life from $8.04 million to $7.22 million. This was the first time the agency has ever lowered the value of a generic human life. This decision compromises everybody's safety since it lowers the stakes when the agency does a cost-benefit analysis. A cost-benefit analysis factors in how much the cleanup will cost and compares those costs to how many people would be saved or helped by the cleanup. The lower value of an American life lets industry off the hook for endangering people and puts everyone's health at greater risk.

Washington Post article: EPA Says Life is Worth Less

Friday, July 18, 2008

New Report: Great Lakes Shipping, Trade, and Aquatic Invasive Species

A new report by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies ponders uniform ballast rules to help keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. The report comes out on the coattails of a recent study by Notre Dame that found that invasive species cause $200 million in damage annually to the Great Lakes.

The new report by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) urges the U.S. to come to an agreement with Canada in setting uniform rules on regulating ballast water for ships entering the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway. One of the suggestions includes the U.S. adopting the International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules that require ships to flush their ballast tanks with either saltwater or chemicals to kill freshwater species. This would at the very least bring both of the countries a step closer to actually doing something about the rapid influx of invasive species.

The House of Representatives recently passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act which would require ships entering U.S. ports to install technology to kill invasive species in the ballast water. The Senate still needs to pass these standards, though they would only be for the U.S. The recent TRB report focuses on uniform rules so that the U.S and Canada can work together to monitor the problem.

There are currently at least 180 invasive species in the Great Lakes, with a new species being discovered every six months. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently ran a series on the effects of invasive species on Lake Huron and in the wake of the story the Sentinel ran an editorial that recommended closing the St. Lawrence Seaway since the economic benefits are only $55 million, according to a report by the Joyce Foundation. The St. Lawrence Seaway will probably not be closed down anytime soon, but everyone does agree that something must be done soon to stop the damage.

TRB Report: Great Lakes Shipping, Trade, and Aquatic Invasive Species

Sciencedaily Story: Keeping Invasive Species Out Of The Great Lakes

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Hazardous flame retardant found in household objects"

An investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveals a dangerous flame retardant that is being used in many household products. Though the chemical in question is widely known to cause cancer, the EPA has been dragging its feet on issuing a final assessment and has relied largely on industry funded studies.

Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report: Hazardous flame retardant found in household objects

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Des Moines Register Climate Change Series

There is a fantastic new series in Iowa's Des Moines register on climate change. While the report focuses on Iowa, there is enough analysis of Iowa in relation to the rest of the U.S for the report to be relevant to anyone already interested in the topic of climate change. There are also a lot of great interactive graphs and graphics. This series is a fine example of online investigative reporting.

Des Moines Register Climate Change Series

Monday, June 30, 2008

"Detroit To Stop Using Incinerator"

According to the Detroit News "Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said today in a statement that Detroit won't buy the city incinerator, and instead will expand recycling and pay to landfill city refuse."

Detroit News Article: Detroit To Stop Using Incinerator

How Much Do We Value the Great Lakes?

A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series examines the high cost of ocean freighters on the Great Lakes. A 2005 study by the Joyce Foundation finds that the public only saves $55 million by allowing ocean vessels to use the Great Lakes, while the steady influx of invader species from the foreign ships are wreaking havoc on Lake Huron in a way that scientists thought unimaginable a few years ago.

GREAT LAKES, GREAT PERIL: A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Exclusive

Editorial: Close the Seaway

Friday, June 27, 2008

The decision on whether or not to close the Detroit Incinerator to be made on Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Free Press video series

From the Ecology Center:

The City of Detroit currently faces a historic deadline of July 1, 2008 to close the largest trash incinerator in the world. The incinerator burns nearly 800,000 tons of trash per year currently at a cost of over $170 per ton to Detroit residents (5-7 times the cost of suburbs that recycle and landfill). Hazardous air pollutants from the facility include mercury, lead and dioxins. Asthma hospitalization rates in Detroit are 3-4 times the average rate of the state of Michigan. In addition to these staggering figures, Detroit is the only city of the 30 largest cities in the United States without any form of curbside recycling.

In 2005, the Detroit Incinerator was the 5th largest stationary source of Nitrogen Oxides, which is a critical component of smog (ground-level ozone). Wayne County is currently in violation of USEPA health standards for smog and soot (particulate matter). Hazardous air pollutants from the facility include mercury, lead and dioxins. Asthma hospitalization rates
in Detroit are 3-4 times the average rate of the state of Michigan. Both smog and soot contribute to and aggravate asthma.

Trash is an inefficient fuel for generating steam and electricity, creating more global warming carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any other fuel. Recycling will create far less pollution, save more energy than the facility produces, and bring the potential for many more jobs in recycling based manufacturing. The current system binds the City
financially and legally to incinerate waste with prohibitive barriers to recycling.

A broad coalition of community organizations- environmental, civil rights, health, labor, faith-based and social service advocates- have proposed a New Business Model for Solid Waste Management in Detroit, which has been endorsed and supported by the Detroit City Council by a 6-2 majority. This plan would implement a curbside recycling pilot program by January 1, 2009 and close the incinerator at the end of its current contracts on June 30, 2009. Closing the facility must include a funded plan to assist every displaced worker in finding a similar job at similar compensation.

The administration of Mayor Kilpatrick has agreed to a smaller pilot curbside recycling program, but appears opposed to ending incineration, which means there will not be significant recycling. The operations of the facility are overseen by the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority (GDRRA). Board members are appointees of the Mayor of Detroit.

Stop Trashing the Climate Incineration Report

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Recent Record Floods Contribute to Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

A recent updated report is available on the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone." Every year sewage and fertilizer runoff creates dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. This year's record flooding is creating a much larger dead zone. The recent updated EPA Science Advisory Board Report aims to limit the mount of fertilizer runoff and urban runoff coming from the Mississippi river.

ENS Story: 2008 Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Could Be Largest Ever

Farm runoff creates ‘dead zones’ offshore, but no national authority is tasked to address them.

Revised EPA Science Advisory Board Report: Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Website

Editorial: Recent Climate Report Predicts More Severe Weather

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research released a report yesterday that forecasts more drought, hurricanes and severe weather. One could make an argument that we are already seeing these effects with the recent flooding of Cedar Rapids Iowa as well as the droughts in California, Georgia, and Australia.

What does this mean for the midwest states?

Lake levels are already taking a hit. Though Lake Superior has rebounded to normal levels due to a wet spring Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are down. The lack of winter ice causes more evaporation of the lakes.

But experts are forecasting more severe weather, this sounds like maybe it would help water levels but the major problem with that is the toll it will take on water quality. Every time we get heavy rains the sewer systems get overloaded and it washes large amounts of raw sewage into our waterways. This is where the E.coli comes from and why beaches get closed down. At the very worst these may contribute to large dead zones within the lakes.

The good news is that throughout the region public forums and newspaper editorials are bringing this issue into the consciousness of people. That is the first step, educating the masses and explaining the problem. With bipartisan and public support we can begin to effectively combat these issues and keep our lakes great.

Global Warming Report

Sciencedaily Story: Global Warming Likely to Fuel Severe Weather

Iowa-Like Floods to Increase With Global Warming

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Protest Rally: Stop Detroit's Incinerator

Recent Free Press Article: Decision on Incinerator's Future Looms as Other Options Weighed

Please join us to stop another twenty years of health issues and 1.2 billion dollars wasted of taxpayers' money. The protest rally will be healed on Thursday May 29, 4pm to 6pm at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue. Please bring as many people as you can, protest signs, and gas/dust masks.

WHEN: Thursday May 29, 4pm to 6pm
WHERE: Corner of Woodward and Jefferson
WHO: Everyone including the most effected children We want green jobs, clean air and to end this wasteful/unnecessary overspending!
Contact Dan Sordyl 248.890.0729,

Something stinks and it's not just the trash!

The lease on the Detroit Incinerator is up for renewal on June 1, 2008. The Detroit City Council has adopted a new plan for trash disposal which includes recycling and shutting down the incinerator. Our Mayor wants to continue using this MONSTER POLLUTING/ASTHMA MACHINE!

We need to act NOW! Call and write to the Detroit City Council and thank them for moving us forward. Call and write the Mayor, ask him to reconsider the health, welfare and finances of Detroit.

-The Detroit incinerator is contributing to the rising dioxin levels, cancer, asthma, and low birth weights in our neighborhoods. The asthma rates for the 9 zip codes around the Incinerator are 4 times higher then the Michigan average. Detroit was just designated the ninth most air polluted city in the country. The Detroit Incinerator is the 6th largest pollution source of over 180 facilities in Wayne County monitored by the state. Wayne County is currently in violation of EPA air quality health standards. The Detroit Incinerator annually emits an estimated 600,000 tons of global warming carbon dioxide. The Detroit Incinerator only burns about 70% of the trash put into it and the resulting highly toxic ash (about 30%) goes to a landfill.

-Our waste is one of the biggest resources for the future. What kind of products could Detroiters produce with the endless supply of this material? Recycling creates 10 times more jobs than incineration. It promotes environmental consciousness and responsibility. Detroit is the only city of the 30 largest cities in the United States that does not provide curbside recycling. By continuing to burn these easily recycle-able items we will never make a full switch to recycling. We are losing the revenue from recycled raw materials. Again, Detroit will be left behind on one of the biggest movements toward a greener economy.

- Detroit Taxpayers have overpaid for trash disposal by an average of about $50 million per year over the last 20 years. In the fiscal year 2007-2008 Detroit residents are paying over $170/ton for trash disposal - about 5 to 7 times more then the suburbs pay. If the Incinerator continues to be used the disposal costs are estimated to be 2 to 3 times higher then what the suburbs will pay. About half of the trash burned in the Detroit Incinerator is from suburban cities, about 50% of the toxic emissions such as lead, mercury and cancer causing dioxins are from suburban trash.

Detroit City Council 2 Woodward Ave(City County Bldg)(313) 224-3266

Council President Ken Cockrel, Jr. 313) 224-4505

Council President Pro-tem Monica Conyers(313) 224-4530

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson(313) 224-4535

Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel(313) 224-1337

Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins(313) 224-1298

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta(313) 224-1198

Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi (313) 224-1645

Councilwoman Martha Reeves(313) 224-4510

Councilwoman Brenda Jones(313) 224-1245

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cost of Cutting Carbon: Pennies a Day

A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund details the cost of cutting Carbon for the average American.

Study: Costs of cutting greenhouse gases are actually small

EPA begins $4 million ChemServe cleanup in Detroit

From an EPA press release:

CONTACT: (EPA) Mick Hans, 312-353-5050,
(EPA) Dave Novak, 312-886-7478
(MDEQ) Robert McCann, 517-241-7397

No. 07-OPA072

EPA begins $4 million ChemServe cleanup in Detroit

CHICAGO (April 23, 2008) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 this week begins a projected $4 million cleanup of ChemServe Corp., which manufactured dyes and soaps at 9505 Copland St., in Detroit's Delray neighborhood.

EPA and partner agencies will host two open house sessions to discuss the project with residents on May 1, from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m., at the Delray Neighborhood House, 420 Leigh St.

On March 25, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, with assistance from the Michigan Attorney General's office, issued an imminent hazard order requiring ChemServe owner Aram Moloian to shut down operations and clean up open and leaking drums, and other mismanaged hazardous materials on the property. EPA issued a comparable order on March 27 under the federal Superfund statute.

The cleanup is expected to continue through August or September. The project involves characterization, containment and proper disposal of about 2,000 drums and 3,000 smaller containers of potentially flammable or corrosive liquid waste and process chemicals. The work will be funded and managed by EPA's Grosse Ile-based Superfund emergency response team. Cost recovery efforts will follow on a separate track from the cleanup activity.

ChemServe has been the subject of numerous local, state and federal efforts to address hazardous site conditions. EPA is also conducting a cleanup at Dearborn Refining in Dearborn, Mich., another facility formerly
owned by Moloian. Utilizing funds via the Oil Pollution Act, Superfund has spent more than $2.6 million at Dearborn Refining since 2006.

In addition to the MDEQ and EPA orders, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth issued a notice to ChemServe on March 31 citing the company for occupational safety and health violations. On April 1, Detroit revoked ChemServe's operations permit.

Residents with questions about the cleanup may contact EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Dave Novak, 800-621-8431, Ext. 67478, or An information repository with site documents has been established at the Campbell Branch Library, 8733 W. Vernor.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wayne County is Fifth in the Nation for CO2 Emissions

Purdue recently released the most accurate model for Carbon Dioxide emissions to date. The project is called project Vulcan and the data is available for anyone to download.

Today the Purdue research team led by Kevin Gurney assistant of earth and Atmospheric Science announced the twenty top U.S. Counties for Carbon Dioxide emmissions. The list had Michigan's Wayne county coming in a solid 5th place in the nation for Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Wayne county had 8.270 million tons of Carbon released for the year 2002 (Project Vulcan will be bringing data for more recent years soon). Wayne County is still well out of range of the top two counties of Harris, Texas (Houston) and Los Angeles that had over 18 million tons of Carbon Dioxide released for the year.

Worst Offenders For Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Top 20 US Counties Identified

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wisconsin Expected to Pass the Compact, Ohio is still negotiating

It appears as if the Great Lakes compact is still alive as Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle called for a special legislative session on April 17 where it is supposed to be ratified.

Wisconsin Rep. Scott Gunderson helped negotiate a compromise for the stalled legislation. Initially Wisconsin Republicans allowed the legislative session to end without passing the compact. They thought that too much power was given to Great Lakes Governors, since just one veto from one governor would not allow a diversion, the votes have to be unanimous.

This is an issue for thirsty communities on the border of the Great Lakes watershed. In theory any rain or water used within the watershed goes back to the Great Lakes. In recent years communities such as Lowell, Indiana have applied for Great Lakes without success. Even though they are physically very close to Lake Michigan, they are technically outside of the watershed and were denied water due to Michigan's John Engler voting no.

Under the recent Wisconsin compromise a legislature committee will have oversight of the Wisconsin Governor's vote.

Also key in the negotiations is that the state will not gain any new authority over groundwater and Wisconsin will not have to implement a statewide conservation program.

What is important here is that no wording of the original compact has been changed. That is part of the controversy in Ohio with Senator Tim Grendell who has similar fears for property rights and the one governor veto power.

As of now the biggest obstacle that faces the Ohio compact is Tim Grendell and the 16other Ohio Senators who oppose the current compact.

If any part of the compact is changed then every state that has passed the compact would have to pass it again, it would in effect kill the bill.

Yesterday Grendell told the Ohio public radio show Sounds of Ideas “I don’t think to prevent water from going to Nevada or some foreign country we have to overly regulate Ohio’s ability to use water for future economic development in its northern counties or convert private water rights to public property.”

Grendell's solution is to try and amend the Ohio Constitution before the end of the year. Grendell's main opponent Ohio state senator Matt Dolan was asked about the prospect of changing the constitution and said there is a time issue with that but that time permitting he would go along with it.

Peter Annin the author of Great Lakes Water Wars, which is a recent book about the compact and the regions water troubles was also on the Ohio public radio show Sounds of Ideas. Annin said: "If Senator Grendell can come up with a way of appeasing his concerns through some other method than changing the compact that completely changes the scenario in Ohio and throughout the Great Lakes Basin."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Interactive Carbon Map

A new interactive carbon map has been developed by Purdue researchers. They say that the new map has 100 times more detail then previous maps in detecting where Carbon emissions are coming from.

The project is referred to as project Vulcan and examines CO2 emissions on an hour by hour basis. Researchers say that unlike past models that were based on population these maps are based on actual greenhouse gas emissions.

On the website there are also excel spreadsheets of every state's county by county CO2 emissions.

Project Vulcan Website

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

2008 National Brownfields Conference to be held at Cobo

From EPA press Release:
"The 2008 National Brownfields Conference will be held at Detroit's Cobo Center, May 5 to 7. The event is expected to draw more than 6,000 environmental and economic development officials, finance and insurance providers, risk managers, planners, attorneys, engineers and students. The conference is managed by the International City/County Management Association, in partnership with EPA."

EPA Awards $7.8 Million in Brownfield Grants to Michigan

The EPA has just awarded $7.8 million in Brownfield grants to Michigan. Overall the government awarded $18.6 million to 56 different communities within the Great Lakes region.

Brownfield areas are places where redevelopment is difficult due to the presence of hazardous materials.

According to the EPA's press release the following Michigan communities recieved the Brownfield grants:

Allegan $200,000
Bay City $200,000
Calhoun County $200,000
Delta County $400,000
Detroit Wayne County Port Authority $400,000
Downriver Community Conference $2 million
Genesee County Land Bank Authority $400,000
Grand Rapids $400,000
Hamtramck $400,000
City of Jackson Brownfield Redevelopment Authority $1 million
Jackson County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority$400,000
Kentwood $200,000
Keweenaw County $200,000
Leelanau County $200,000
Macomb County $400,000
Otsego County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority $200,000
Southfield Brownfield Redevelopment Authority $200,000
Three Rivers $200,000
Wyoming $200,000

Dioxin Damage Assessment Plan Released by the Fish and Wildlife Service

The Damage assessment plan has been released for the Tittabawassee River. The report can be accessed here.

Fish and Wildlife Service Tittabawassee River site

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

CDC Great Lakes Report

The Great Lakes CDC report that I reported on, has finally been released. A copy in its entirety can be viewed here .

There are really good maps that accompany the report, though I have had trouble getting them to load up. It may take forever.

EPA, MDEQ to sample Saginaw residential area for dioxin contamination

This is from a press release from the EPA that came out today.

(Chicago- Apr. 2, 2008) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have begun screening a residential neighborhood in Saginaw Mich., for dioxin-contaminated soil.

An estimated 10 residential properties in an area along the Tittabawassee River will be sampled. Small plugs from up to 36 inches below surface level will be sent for laboratory analysis.

Analysis may take two to three weeks. Once the data is returned, EPA and MDEQ, along with Michigan Department of Community Health, will consider a range of options, including more comprehensive sampling in the area and possible cleanup actions.

"Residential soil contamination is a serious matter," said Associate Superfund Director Ralph Dollhopf. "At this time of year, children are playing outside again and families are planning gardens. If action is needed, this project will ramp up very quickly."

The investigation aims to determine the extent of dioxin contamination present in the neighborhood. The project was prompted by Dow Chemical Co.'s February 2008 disclosure to the agencies of an elevated dioxin level found in a residential soil sample collected by Dow in November 2007. Under the company's Michigan operating license, MDEQ required Dow to conduct certain soil and embankment sampling along the Middle Branch of the Tittabawassee River.

Dow's Midland facility is a 1,900-acre chemical manufacturing plant. Dioxins and furans are byproducts from the manufacture of chlorine-based products. Past waste disposal practices, emissions and incineration at Dow have resulted in on and off-site dioxin and furan contamination.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Price of Corn May Double

The prices for corn are expected to rise for corn, which will in turn raise prices for other food products like poultry, beef, and pork since corn is a vital to their needs.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture planting report released yesterday has corn production down 8 percent with soybean production up 18 percent from 2007.

Many farmers are switching to soybean production as a result of rising prices from Asian demand.

Last year was a record for corn production. Farmers planted 13.1 million bushels of corn, this year will still see historic corn production but prices are expected to more double for corn due to ethanol production. In early 2007 the price was $3 per bushel, according to the Financial Times some traders are speculating that prices will reach as high as $6.50.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The West is Warming Faster than Anywhere Else in the World

A recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) has found that American western states are warming nearly twice as fast than anywhere else in the world.

This is more bleak news for western states. Earlier this year researchers found that in modern recorded times the climate has been unusually wet and that mega droughts lasting 100 hundred years or more are not uncommon.

The big unknown has been how global warming will effect the west. This recent report supports that global warming will accelerate drought conditions.

Science Daily Story

Saturday, March 29, 2008

U.S. military buildup on Iran border

Here we go people, get ready. It seems that the prediction former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made in Ferndale on January 26 may be coming true.

The Russian News and Information agency has reported that the U.S naval presence is at levels that haven't been seen since right before the U.S invasion of Iraq. This is coupled with a newly dispatched battle carrier group.

The article also quotes a couple of Russian officials claiming that the U.S. does intend to launch quick airstrikes on Iran.

This is similar to what Scott Ritter told a packed house at Ferndale's First United Methodist Church. Ritter predicted that in April there will be a military strike in Iran that will last 5-7 days, with troops coming later. Why April? Part of the reason is that the military’s modernization of B-1 bombers and bunker busters will be finished in late March, early April.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Survey to Examine Frog Killing Fungus in Illinois

A dangerous fungus that rapidly kills frogs has been found in Illinois. The fungus is called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or "Bd" and kills entire populations of frogs by blocking the passage of oxygen and moisture through their skin.

Zoologists at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), have been studying the fungus abroad in Central America and South America since the early 1990's.

Leading SIUC zoologist Karen Lips is beginning a frog survey funded by the Illinois Department Natural Resources. The survey will examine the effects of the fungus on Illinois frogs. So far little is known about the effects of Bd on North American frogs.

Lips has found that the disease typically spreads through populations in wavelike patters and can cause the extinction of entire populations and species.

The fungus can be spread from ornamental trees and from exotic frogs from pet stores.

The source of Bd in Illinois is not yet known at this time.

Karen Lips' recent study in the journal PLoS Biology.

Science Daily article

Toxic Toy author in the Ann Arbor area

The Ecology Center is hosting an event with special guest Mark Schapiro, author of "Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power."

Here is a link to a recent cover story he wrote for The Nation.

Thursday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m., at Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron River Drive, in Room 101 of the Morris Lawrence Building.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Metro Detroit Danger Zone

When news broke that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Great Lakes report was delayed, it was news in and of itself. The CDC claimed that there was faulty science in the report which prompted the delay.

The report lists various “area’s of concern” and rates the sites on a scale of one to five, with one being an “Urgent Public Health Hazard,” a three being an “Indeterminate Public Health Hazard,” and a five being a site that has no threat of exposure to the public.

But what did it say? What did the report say about the health of Great Lakes residents? More specifically, what did they have to say about Metro Detroit?

Rouge River

The Rouge River was the first metro Detroit main area of concern in the report. The report shows that Wayne County has a very disproportionate amount of pollution in comparison with neighboring Oakland County:

“Onsite Toxic Report Inventory releases in Wayne and Oakland Counties (combined) totaled 24,621,119 pounds in 2001, primarily to air and land. Wayne County accounted for 89% and Oakland County accounted for 11% of the total onsite releases.”

One of the things that is echoed throughout the report is the acknowledgement and observance of citizens having ill health effects, but there was no clear link established between the adverse health effects and the areas of concern.

The report identifies the vulnerable populations for Wayne County and Oakland County. The people included as vulnerable were children six years and younger, females aged 15-44, and adults 65 and older.

In the words of the report:

“Wayne County (vulnerable populations 923,411) had an unusually large number of health status indicators that compared unfavorably with those of the U.S. and with the median of the peer counties, including infant mortality indicators, birth measures and death measures. Some of the indicators in each of these three categories also were elevated above the upper limit of the peer county range.”

“In contrast, Oakland County (vulnerable populations 510,496) had only two health status indicators that compared unfavorably with those of the U.S. and also with the median of the peer counties: these were black infant mortality and deaths from stroke.”

Consider the Allen Park Clay Mine, this site was classified as an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard, which means they don’t know if it is a threat to people. But what they do know is that ongoing cancer studies in the surrounding communities of Snow Woods, Melvindale, and Allen Park, have revealed high incidences of brain cancer. Still though, there is no smoking gun or clear link since little is known about brain cancer.

A possible “flaw” in the science which (the CDC originally claimed was the reason for delaying release of the report) is the community study of Detroit neighborhoods near the Carter industrial site which is listed as a Public Health Hazard. They found PCBs in storm sewers that drain into the Detroit River and they found PCBs in the gutters of nearby homes. But, the study was done before the removal of PCB soil from the site and the covering of mounds of soil. So while we know that it was a threat, is it still a threat?

Most of the report for the Metro Detroit area is ambiguous, with seven of the nineteen sites being listed as an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard.

Seven of the sites were listed as Public Health Hazards Category 2 including the Carter Industrial, Gratiot Trailer Park, Joy Road Dump, Master Metals Inc. #2, Packard Plant, Wholesale Russell, and Old World Trade Center.(More information on hazardous sites can be found here.)

The Clinton River

The Clinton River watershed goes on into Oakland County from Macomb and in turn feeds and affects the Rouge River. This marks the next metro Detroit section of the report.

The Clinton River affects far more people in Macomb County than in Oakland County. The vulnerable population in Oakland County was only 17,616 people while Macomb County had 348,417 people at risk. Again these are Children 6 years and younger, females 15-44, and adults over 65.

None of the Oakland County sites were listed as Public Health Hazards (Category 2) with only one site being listed as a public Health Hazard in Macomb County.

Six of the nine Oakland and Macomb sites were listed as Indeterminate Public Health Hazards. What is not included in the report are all of the landfills on the border of Oakland and Macomb Counties. It mentions Liquid Disposal, the G & H Landfill, and the J & L Landfill which are all within two miles of each other, but it says nothing about the other six landfills in the immediate area. Though the landfills may be “safe” and within Federal standards, there is no look at the bigger picture here. Also while it may be a “safe” place to live there is also no mention of the house that blew up in 2000 from methane migrations from one of the landfills in the proximity (it has not been proved exactly which landfill it came from.)

The Rose Township Dump in Oakland County was listed as an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard. Though some groundwater pollutants were escaping the report says: “residential wells were not yet affected. There is the potential, however, for residential wells to be affected in the future.” The report does cite this incident as one of the “Issues for Follow-Up.”

Another one of the “Issues for Follow-Up” is the South Macomb Disposal Authority (SMDA) moving up from an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard to a Public Health Hazard when it was found that not all of the pollutants were being contained. The report stated that there “was concern for future contamination of residential wells. Additional remedial action is underway.”

The SMDA has long been a plague for residents that lived near it. The majority of nearby residents got out of court settlements. The most recent (and second highest) out of court settlement totaled $950,000 and was awarded to Calvin Wieslawa after 23 years of litigation.

The report acknowledged the local “death survey” put on by local residents but said: “The data was considered insufficient due to the lack of information on the geographic boundaries of the survey, types of cancers, and important risk factors. The survey which did not provide any clear connections between reported adverse health effects (hepatitis and skin rash in one person and cirrhosis in another) and possible exposure to landfill contamination.”

The report identified that currently 867 residents are vulnerable to pollution within the area of SMDA.

By Jason Tafilowski

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Federal Toy Reform Law Passes the U.S Senate

Just as Michigan recently passed stricter laws curbing lead in children's toys, the U.S. Senate just passed a law calling for a public complaint database and for stricter toy testing and consumer access to complaints. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also is getting a larger staff and budget.

Chicago Tribune article

AP article courtesy of the Toledo Blade

Scrutinizing Michigan's Asessment Tool

Withdrawing large amounts of Great Lakes water is as easy as paying your bills online. With a few clicks and the right numbers you could tap into the Great Lakes.

Michigan legislators are currently discussing whether to amend the Senate version (SB 212) of the Great Lakes Compact by adding an Assessment Tool that would create a model based approach towards withdrawing Great Lakes water. The model is intended for large withdrawals exceeding 100,000 gallons per day.

In a recent slideshow, Jon Bartholic, director of Michigan State University’s Institute of Water Research had mock versions of an easy to use water withdrawal website that would provide instant approval or rejection.

The entire concept of an “Assessment Tool” and “Screening Tool” (the website), is from the government appointed Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council.

Public Act 34 was passed in Michigan in February 2006 mandating that the Council come up with “criteria and indicators to evaluate the sustainability of the state’s groundwater use.”

The model that the Council developed works by determining how much water is in Michigan streams and then to determine how much water can be withdrawn before there is an adverse effect on indicator species such as trout.

An indicator species is a species that is sensitive to environmental changes. Trout is the most likely candidate to be the indicator species for the Assessment Tool. Trout are sensitive to temperature changes and are seen as good indicators of stream health by ecologists.

The council has worked out four A-D Zones that water withdrawals will fall under, with A having the least amount of impact on the indicator species and D having the greatest impact on the population.

Zone B is where there is the beginning of a negative impact on the indicator species. What is unclear in the Council’s final report is whether it will be ok to fall into the Zone B range.

The report says: “In Zone B the proposed water use will likely begin to impact ‘thriving’ fish populations and, at a minimum, steps need to be taken to better understand water uses in the area and concerns regarding specific aquatic resources and to educate users.”

The council left the Zone B issue unresolved, the report stated: “The Council did not reach final consensus on whether or not a withdrawal in Zone B also should be considered as ‘not likely to cause an Adverse Resource Impact,’ either by the Screening Tool or following a site-specific determination. We recognize that this area required discussion beyond the time afforded the Council for deliberations.”

The unresolved Zone B is significant since the Council recommended that this model should become the legal standard for water withdrawals in Michigan.

Other legal aspects for the final decision are that the decision is based on the best available data and then the decision can be challenged legally by either a third party or by the applicant.

The Council did not set up any guidelines for anybody that over time ends up falling in the Zone C or D range. There also has not been consensus over whether these permits should be permanent or renewable.

James Clift, who was a member of the Council and is part of the Michigan Environmental Council disagreed with the reports acknowledgement that some streams could be reduced by as much as 40-50 percent and still fall into Zone A and could still “support good populations of trout.”

In a press release Clift explains: “The numbers prove that the assessment tool should be used exactly for what it was intended – as a tool, not the sole means of determining whether water users can responsibly pump huge quantities of water from the ground.”

The Council did not come to a consensus over whether each stream should be valued equally or on a stream by stream basis since some streams are valued differently for their ecological or recreational importance.

Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council: Final Report

Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council MDEQ website

by Jason Tafilowski

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Lead Commission Makes its Ruling

The Lead Commission decided to keep the lead levels for toys at 600 ppm. All Michigan toy retailers will be required to pull any toys that exceed 600 ppm off of their toy shelves effective March 2.

Current Federal law only bans lead paint at levels higher than 600 ppm. While the Michigan law is an improvement, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that any toys exceeding levels of 45 ppm are dangerous to children.

News Analysis: Momentum of The Compact is tested

Crunch time has come in the Wisconsin Legislature. Water lobbyists and interest groups are jumping on the bandwagon to try and discredit the Great Lakes Compact.

The Compact took a step back when two Wisconsin Representatives Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem and Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, declared that The Compact was unfair to communities bordering the Great Lakes watershed.

The current Compact versions that the eight Great Lakes states have been passing do not allow for communities outside the Great Lakes watershed to withdraw Great Lakes water unless there is a unanimous vote of all eight Great Lakes Governors.

Also key in the current Wisconsin Compact version is the expansion of the public trust doctrine to the groundwater, which would allow for increased protection and regulation of private wells from the state. Huebsch and Gunderson are also against the added extensions of groundwater being in the public trust. They want less regulation for private wells.

The original Compact version was passed by the Wisconsin Senate and sent to the Republican controlled state Assembly where Huebsch is the Assembly speaker and Gunderson is the chairman of the Assembly natural resources committee.
As a result, the bill probably won't make it out of committee by the end of next week which is the end of Wisconsin's legislative session.

This reconsideration of The Compact has gotten Ohio Senator Tim Grendell more visibility to advocate for protection for private property rights. Grendell also does not like that the votes for water withdrawals have to be unanimous.

While these are valid concerns, it threatens the progress that has been made, and could send the process back to the beginning. The Compact has been enacted into law in only three of the eight states including Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana.

The dangers of dragging this situation out include the 2009 U.S. Census that will see the loss of U.S. Representatives to thirsty southwestern states. The Compact does still have to pass the U.S. House and Senate.

The other reason everybody is in such a hurry to get The Compact passed is that the current Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) that is in place is seen as unconstitutional by legal analysts. WRDA prohibits water diversions which is unconstitutional under the commerce clause in the Constitution.

Amidst the controversy from opposing legislators, interest groups that oppose The Compact have been getting more editorial space within the region.

One of the critics, the Monroe County Farm Bureau are lobbying lawmakers to oppose the Michigan House Bills. Much of their opposition is directed towards increased public involvement .

Paul Marks, president of the Monroe County Farm Bureau told The Monroe News “The public would be allowed to have a say on whether a water use is reasonable or not. The bills place all groundwater withdrawals in the ‘public trust,’ which would allow the state to place restrictions on water use beyond the environment.”

In The Monroe News article Marks worries about “Having the public comment on the permits ‘could diminish your property rights because your water use did not meet their values,’”

Marks also cites the increased costs of drilling new wells which would have a cost of over $100,000 and require many permits.

In the Green Bay Press Gazette Green Bay Press Gazette Scott Manley who is the environmental Policy director for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (Wisconsin’s largest business association) compares the infamous Great Lakes Chicago diversion with Wisconsin’s industrial use saying that industry uses less than one percent of the water compared to water use in the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

Like Marks, Manley is making the case for less regulation and protection. Though Manley is not boldly advocating for less public involvement.

The comparison of Wisconsin’s Industrial water use with Chicago water use is a flawed argument. It is important to balance regulation with economic concerns but the water situation is becoming too hot of a topic nationally and worldwide to stall a legally valid protection against water diversions.

The Chicago diversion is a strange exception that goes back 100 years. According to Peter Annin, author of Great Lakes Water Wars, Chicago had sanitation problems of “Biblical Proportions.” At the time, the proposal to make the Chicago River flow the opposite way seemed like great idea. That way the sewage would go into the Mississippi river and the problem would be flushed far away.

When people started getting sick in St. Louis the lawsuits started. Eventully the legal battle went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 where they issued a decree that Chicago could divert water, but only 1,500 cubic feet per second. This is known as The Chicago Exception. Though the Chicago diversion is the largest Great Lakes diversion, the amount they can legally divert is finite.

The days of these kinds of large scale diversions are over and this was an unusual situation that cannot be fairly compared to industrial water use.

What is clear is that Agricultural groups oppose regulations on water use, while the lake levels continue to drop.

The levels have dropped so low that another industry is suffering: the shipping industry. The Canadian Press reported that the Great Lakes shipping industry may have to cut the shipping season short since big freighters are getting stuck in shipping canals. On Tuesday the Mississagi, a 189-metre Canadian ship got stuck for two hours in the entrance to the Grand Haven channel.

The New York Times reported that “for every inch of water that the lakes lose, the ships that ferry bulk materials across them must lighten their by 270 tons – or 540,000 pounds – or risk running aground, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association, a trade group for United States flag cargo companies.”

It will be curious to see the press that Great Lakes shipping groups get in the coming weeks. It will also be curious to see the response of regional lawmakers to these complex challenges.

by Jason Tafilowski

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ecology Center Hosts Toxic Toy Testing in Ferndale

Parents brought their children’s favorite toys to the Kulick Community Center in Ferndale on Saturday to have their toys tested for lead and other toxic chemicals.

The event was put on by the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor and Michigan state senator Gilda Jacobs. The guest speakers were The Ecology Center’s Policy Director Mike Shriberg and toxic chemical specialist Dr. Mike Harbut.

Much of the recent interest in unsafe chemicals comes amidst recent recalls of toys with unsafe levels of lead paint. The Ecology Center is one of many consumer advocacy organizations across the country that has been spearheading efforts to get dangerous chemicals out of everyday products.

Currently Federal law only regulates lead paint. Any paint that exceeds 600 ppm is illegal, to put this into perspective, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): any products that exceed 40 ppm are unsafe.

Recently Michigan passed a law banning all products that have levels of lead exceeding 600 ppm. Part of the package of the recent legislation includes the formation of the Michigan Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commission. The Lead Commission will assess by the end of this March whether the 600 ppm ban on children's products is a low enough level.

Both Harbut and Shriberg want the Lead Commission to set lead levels as low as possible. According to Harbut “Lead serves no useful purpose to the human body…The general scientific standard is, there is no such thing as a safe level” Shriberg was quick to point out that much of the record recalls last year were voluntary toy recalls “because the Federal government actually lacks many of the tools to do this.”

Shriberg is concerned about the lack of disclosure to consumers: “…there is a huge gap here in information for parents and consumers of all types…There’s not even disclosure requirements between the retailer so the manufacturer doesn’t have to tell Toys R’ Us for instance, what’s actually in the product.”

What the Ecology Center is trying to do according to Shriberg is “take a small chunk of filling in that gap, but really trying to spur both state and federal government to action.”

The Ecology Center has been randomly testing toys; they test the toys with an XRF device. The XRF device is a gun-shaped device with a trigger and decked out with flames on the side. The device has been loaned to the Ecology Center since it costs $40,000. The XRF device gives an accurate measure of a products composition and is used by the FDA and throughout big industry to test products.

So far the Ecology Center has tested over 1200 products and found that a third of the products tested have had detectable amounts of lead and other hazardous substances. Hundreds of the products tested had levels above the 600 ppm standard though it was in the plastic, not the paint.

According to Shriber, price was not a factor in which toys had lead. But he does warn that any kind of children’s metal jewelry had the highest levels of lead.

Other things to look out for is lead-glazed earthenware, these are often large decorative coffee mugs. One of the cups a man brought in tested at 2100 ppm, and when Shriber pointed the gun inside of the cup he found low levels of mercury. Though Shriber points out that the toxins could be sealed inside the cup, which is ok as long as it doesn’t get chipped.

Harbut also warns that lead is found in plastic so people should be sure to wipe off their vinyl plastic window shades because they get coated with dust that contains lead that can then easily be ingested.

Shriber and the Ecology Center are sure to be busy as the March 31, deadline approaches for the Lead Commissions deadline on whether the 600 ppm requirement is protective enough for consumers.

The Ecology Center is currently offering to test daycares for $150 for about an hour where he can test up to 50 items. The website for the Ecology Center is: while the phone number is (734) 761-3186

Here is a recent Nation article on this topic.

Mark Schapiro will be speaking at the Ecology Center's Annual Membership meeting on April 10 from 7:00-9:00. The meeting location will be announced soon.

Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health

By Jason Tafilowski