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