Who would've thought that sewage could produce electricity? The University of Toronto's David Bagley did. (photo by Davide Gugliemo)
A Toronto researcher says most communities are underestimating a potential source of cheap electricity – raw sewage. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
A Toronto researcher says most communities are underestimating a potential source
of cheap electricity – raw sewage. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
University of Toronto professor David Bagley collected waste water at a North
Toronto water treatment plant. He took the sewage into his lab, dried it and
then burned the solids to see how much energy they produced. He estimates the
energy produced from sewage at three treatment plants could produce more than
100 megawatts of electricity. That could be enough to keep a small town going
for a year. But Bagley says few take advantage of this resource.
“Our measurements show that there’s enough energy that we should be able to
completely offset the electricity needed to run the plant, and have extra
left over the send back to to the grid.”
Bagley finds communities are reluctant to invest in the equipment they’d
need to convert sewage into power. But he’s hoping to to design a cheaper
and more efficient system so more people can get the most out of their sewage.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
The National Wildlife Federation says that "for the price of one cup of coffee per household per month," mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants could be dramatically reduced. (photo by Kenn Kiser)
According to a report by the National Wildlife Federation, steep reductions in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in the Great Lakes region can be achieved without sharp increases on household utility bills. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett has more:
According to a report by the National Wildlife Federation, steep reductions in mercury
emissions from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest/Great Lakes region can be achieved
without sharp increases on household utility bills. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Sarah Hulett has more:
The report looked at coal-fired plants in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
It says 90 percent of mercury could be stripped from power plant emissions using available
technology, at a minimal cost. Zoe Lipman is with the National Wildlife Federation. She says
the benefits to public health would be quickly realized.
“When you cut mercury emissions, you see reductions in mercury in water and fish in a matter
of years, not decades.”
The National Wildlife Federation report looked at the cost of outfitting power plants with
a technology that uses carbon powder to capture mercury, and catch it in a fabric filter.
Utility companies say there’s no proven technology that strips mercury completely. They say
the technologies they’ve reviewed are more costly than what’s laid out in the report.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.
To prevent invasive insects from getting into the country, officials want to increase the application of methyl bromide to wooden pallets. (photo by Kevin
However, by using methyl bromide, some scientists say we are damaging the ozone layer.
The USDA wants to increase the use of methyl bromide to keep invasive insects from getting into the country. But some environmentalists are fighting the plan, saying the chemical will do more harm than good. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach explains:
The USDA wants to increase the use of methyl bromide to
keep invasive insects from getting into the country. But
some environmentalists are fighting the plan, saying the
chemical will do more harm than good. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has more:
The U.S. Agriculture Department wants to nearly double the
use of methyl bromide. The compound is used as a pesticide
to fight invasive insects that come into the U.S. on wooden
pallets. But scientists say methyl bromide is harmful to the
stratospheric ozone layer. The Natural Resources Defense Council
plans to sue the government over its plan. David Doniger is with
the NRDC. He says more use of methyl bromide might reverse advances
made in protecting the upper atmosphere.
“The ozone layer has been badly hurt. It’ll take a long time – 50 years –
to fully heal it… and only if we get rid of all the ozone depleting chemicals.”
Doniger contends the Indiana company that’s a key producer of methyl bromide
has many other products and wouldn’t see any job losses if the government
plan is halted. The USDA argues there are no feasible alternatives to methyl
bromide, so the government says the chemical deserves an exemption from a
1987 international treaty that targets ozone depleting compounds.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
Some see national struggles with the availability of the flu vaccine as a measure of our readiness for an act of bioterrorism. (Photo by Pamela Roth, courtesy of creatingonline.com)
A new study finds the nation is still not prepared for a biological terrorist attack… mainly because it could take us years to respond to it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jenny Lawton has this report:
A new study finds the nation is still not prepared for a biological terrorist attack –
mainly because it could take us years to respond to it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Jenny Lawton reports:
The study found that viruses specially manufactured by terrorists – or even a rare, natural
virus – could be devastating to the country. That’s because as it stands now, it takes
nearly a decade to develop vaccines against them. Mark Lister is one of the authors of the
report, published by the Sarnoff Corporation and the Center for Biosecurity of the University
of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He says the recent scramble over the shortage of flu vaccines
just proves the point…
“If we are fairly ill-prepared for an annual flu vaccination process, how prepared are we
going to be if a bioterrorist event occurs on a large scale?”
Lister says the government needs to coordinate its efforts more closely with drug and
biotech companies. That, he says, could help new drugs of all kinds hit the market faster.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jenny Lawton.
(Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)
many think that lindane is unsafe and are calling for its removal from the U.S. market. (photo by G & A
An environmental group is calling for the United States to ban a pesticide used to treat head lice. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
An environmental group is calling for the United States to ban a pesticide used
to treat head lice. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Lindane is most commonly used as a pesticide for corn, wheat, and other grains.
It’s also used as a medication to kill lice and scabies. But the Food and Drug
Administration warns that lindane should only be used when all other treatment
options are exhausted. That’s because the FDA has found that in very isolated
cases, lindane can cause seizures or even death.
Kristin Schafer is the Program Coordinator for the Pesticide Action Network. The
group is seeking a ban on lindane in the United States.
“This is the type of chemical that there’s no reason not to get it off the market.
It’s dangerous, it builds up in our bodies. It’s particularly dangerous to children
and there are alternatives for all uses.”
Schafer says 52 countries and the state of California have already banned lindane.
Canada plans to eliminate agricultural uses of lindane by the end of the year.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
Farm museums like this one are sometimes the only remnant of the agricultural life that has been overrun by development. However, some communities are buying farmers' development rights in an effort to save the rural landscape. (Photo by Lester Graham)
One way to keep farms from becoming subdivisions is to pay the farmers to never build on their land. This has been happening on the east and west coasts for decades. But it’s just now beginning to catch on in the Great Lakes region. In the second of a two part series on farmers and the decisions they make about their land, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Peter Payette takes us to a place where local government is paying to keep land in agriculture:
One way to keep farms from becoming subdivisions is to pay the farmers to never
build on their land. This has been happening on the east and west coasts for
decades. But it’s just now beginning to catch on in the Great Lakes region. In
the second of a two part series on farmers and the decisions they make about
their land, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Peter Payette takes us to a place
where local government is paying to keep land in agriculture:
Whitney Lyon’s farm has been in his family for more than a century. He has 100
acres of cherry and apple trees. The orchards are on a peninsula that stretches
fourteen miles across a bay in Northern Lake Michigan. His farm is about a half
mile from the clear blue water that attracts thousands of tourists here every
Lyon says real estate agents love his property.
“We run clean back to the bay on the north side… that’s view property. It’s
worth 30, 40,000 bucks an acre.”
But it’s not worth that much anymore. The rights to build houses on the Lyon farm have
been sold. The way this works is this: the Lyon’s keep the land, but they get paid
for the real estate value they give up to keep the land as a farm instead of house
(sound of apple picking)
There’s a thick fog across the peninsula today. Whitney Lyon is picking apples. His
wife Mary is inside watching kids. Mary says the day they sold the development
rights was the best day in their thirty years of farm life. She says she knew they’d
be able to stay on the land. And because of the money they made, she downsized her
“The big change, especially the last two or three years, I no longer just buy stuff
from just garage sales. I have actually been spending money on purchasing things for
the house. Which previously, everything came from garage sales.”
Many of the Lyon’s neighbors have sold their development rights as well. For ten
years, the township government has raised money to buy those rights with an additional
property tax. Almost no other community in the Midwest has a program like this. But,
if approved by voters, five more townships in this area might also start programs after
the November elections. Each township is separately asking voters to approve a property tax.
The American Farmland Trust has helped the townships design the program. The group is
excited because this would provide an example of local governments joining together to
protect farmland. Farmland Trust’s President Ralph Grossie flew in for a campaign event.
In a speech, Grossie told a crowd of about 100 people there’s a disconnect between farmers
and their communities. He says the community benefits from the farms while the farmers
struggle to make ends meet.
“We believe there is a middle ground here, there is a way to strike a deal between those
who manage our landscape – private farmers and ranchers, landowners – and those who
appreciate and benefit from that well-managed landscape. If you think about it, that’s
the heart of the property rights debate. Almost all those conflicts over property rights
are really about who pays for achieving a public goal on private land.”
Grossie says paying farmers with public money is the best option if a community wants to
keep farms. Otherwise, he says government forces farmers to pay when they give up profitable
uses of their land because of zoning laws. But a few in this crowd weren’t buying.
Some are opposed to more taxes on their homes or businesses so the township government can
write big checks to farmers. Others question if younger generations even want to farm.
(sound of noise from crowd)
And some are just plain suspicious of government. Roger Booth is talking to another
opponent of the propposal after the speech. Booth is explaining that when the right
to develop a piece of land is purchased, it’s gone forever. But he points out there
is one exception.
“Eminent domain. And who’s going to decide eminent domain has the right to take it? The
people in power of government at the time. Not today. Thirty years from now.”
Government also has an image problem because prominent local farmers often sit on the
town boards. It’s hard not to notice they could be the ones cashing in on the public treasury.
Critics also point out these programs tax farms to save farmland. And they say buying the
deveolopment rights does nothing to improve the business of farming. Supporters admit this
doesn’t guarantee future success for farms. But they say at least it gives the farmers a
chance to keep farming instead of selling to developers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Peter Payette.
A former farm field in Central Ohio ready for development. It's an increasingly common sight in this area. This land is right next door to a dairy. Worried about his new neighbors, the farmer is planning to sell. (Photo by Tamara Keith)
Some farmers opt to sell their land to developers because they can get much more money for the land than they ever could farming. Others retire and their children are not interested in farming. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Jackson's farm. Jackson has optioned this 216 acre plot of land for development. As soon as the developer gets clearance to build, this farm will be no more.
(Photo by Tamara Keith)
In the Great Lakes region, farmland is rapidly being developed into homes, office parks and shopping centers. Nationally, farmland is lost at a rate of more than 9-thousand acres a day. But in order for this development to happen, someone has to sell their land. In the first of a two-part series on farmers and the decisions they make about their land, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith introduces us to some farmers who have made the difficult choice to sell:
In the Great Lakes region, farmland is rapidly being developed into homes, office parks
and shopping centers. Nationally, farmland is lost at a rate of more than nine-thousand
acres a day. But in order for this development to happen, someone has to sell their
land. Tamara Keith introduces us to some farmers who have made that difficult choice:
At a busy intersection in a newly suburban area, a red barn and white house sit back
off the road. Lush green pasture land hugs the old farm buildings. But the days are
numbered for this bucolic scene.
(sound of construction)
Across the street dozens of condos are under construction… and farmer Roy Jackson has
put this 216-acre farm in Central Ohio under option for development. As soon as the
developer gets approval to build, Jackson’s farm will be no more.
“I’m a third generation farmer and you put your roots down and to see your land be
developed is something I have seen coming, but to actually see it happen across the
road; it’s a sad thing, but it’s progress.”
Sitting on his front porch, Jackson looks our on a neighborhood where once there were farms.
Jackson: “At one point we farmed over 1500 acres and now we’re down to about 300.”
Keith: “What happened?”
Jackson: “We’ve lost a lot of it to development. In the estate of my mom and dad
we had to sell that to settle the estate and that was part of it as well.”
Like many in agriculture, Jackson didn’t own all the land he farmed. He was leasing
it and when the owner decided to sell for development, Jackson was out of luck. Now
he says there’s not enough land left to farm profitably.
“I have a son that wants to farm with me and to do it here, there just isn’t enough
land to sustain two families and make a living for both.”
So, he’s found a big piece of land down in Kentucky, in an area where land is still
plentiful and development pressures are distant. He’s leasing it with an option to buy.
Soon Jackson and his son will have the cattle ranch they’ve been planning for years.
It just won’t be in the state where his family has farmed for three generations.
(sound of heavy machinery)
Workers operate backhoes to grade the ground in an open field that will eventually
be home to some seven-thousand people in a new development. Retired farmer and
agriculture educator Dick Hummel recently sold a portion of this land, allowing
the project to move forward.
“I had some people critical of me because I was going to sell farmland, but on
the other hand, I really didn’t. I traded. You just have to accept that in this
community because that’s what’s going to happen. That’s what has happened. Plus
the fact, it’s been pretty tough farming and this has given a lot of farmers a
chance to sell some land for some excellent prices.”
Hummel sold about 100 acres of farmland and bought some new land – 77 acres –
farther out in the country. His father had bought what Hummel calls the “home farm”
in 1935, and that family history weighed heavily on Hummel when he was deciding what
“It was harder to decide to sell that land because it had been in my family for many
generations than it was the agricultural part.”
His father bought the land for 100 dollars an acre and Hummel was able to sell it
for a whole lot more. Asked why he sold, Hummel’s answer is simple.
“The offer. I hadn’t thought about selling at all. I didn’t even know that they
would want any of this particular land ’till all at once there were others that
were selling for a price. I heard about that, and first thing I knew, a heck of
a lot of land in this area was selling. So you compare notes as to prices, et
cetera and so forth, and that’s how it happens.”
Hummel says he wasn’t pressured to sell. He’s well past retirement age, and
he says it was the right decision personally. And such is the case for most
farmers who sell their land for development, says Sara Nikolich, Ohio director
with American Farmland Trust.
“You’ve got acres of farmland that can be sold for 20, 30,000 dollars an acre at times.
For a lot of farmers that’s their retirement they’re sitting on, and when you have
development surrounding you and you don’t have any public policy to promote agriculture
and perhaps you don’t have any heirs, you don’t have any options available to you other
And so, the personal decisions of individual farmers are transforming some of the
nation’s rural landscape into suburban landscapes.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamara Keith.
The quest for a perfectly manIcured lawn has driven some lawn care companies to create a grass resistant to weed killer. Some worry, however, that they've created an invasive species. (Photo by Philipp Pilz)
An environmental watchdog group is hoping to block federal approval of a new genetically modified type of grass. The group says the grass poses a threat to natural areas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
An environmental watchdog group is hoping to block fedral approval of a new genetically
modified type of grass. The group says the grass poses a threat to natural areas. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Two companies – Scotts and Monsanto – want the government’s approval to commercialize a type of
creeping bentgrass. The grass would mainly be planted on lawns and golf courses because it’s
resistant to Roundup, a popular weed killer. But critics of the bio-engineered grass say it
needs more testing. For one thing, they say, genes from the grass can spread and strengthen
Joe Mendelson is with the International Center for Technology Assessment.
“The end result is you’re going to create a grass that is invasive, that will take over natural
areas like our grasslands and or forest areas, and we won’t be able to control it. That’s going
to have a very negative impact on a number of sensitive ecosystems.”
The U.S. Forest Service has also weighed in, saying the grass has the potential to have a
negative effect on all of the country’s grasslands and natural forests. Scotts has said the
bio-engineered grass poses no threat to natural areas.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
A newly formed coalition to preserve the Great Lakes looks to Congress for support. (Photo by Brandon Bankston)
Philanthropist Peter Wege of the Wege Foundation recently announced a five million dollar grant to build widespread public support to help restore the Great Lakes. The money will be spent to form a group called the Great Lakes Coalition. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kaomi Goetz reports:
Philanthropist Peter Wege and the Wege Foundation recently announced a five million
dollar grant to help build widespread public support to help restore the Great Lakes. The
money will be spent to form a group called the Great Lakes Coalition. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Kaomi Goetz reports:
The Great Lakes Coalition was formed to help set a national agenda and to influence federal
policy. Its members include the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Conservation
Association, who are taking a leading role in the group. Coalition consultant Mark Van Putten says
the coalition’s aim is to make restoration of the region a national priority.
“Many of the members of Congress who will vote on Great Lakes restoration don’t come from the
region. Much of the American people don’t know the importance of the Great Lakes and this is a
grant that is designed to have broad public education and outreach to inform people around the
The coalition is modeled after one formed in the mid-80’s to restore the Florida Everglades.
In 2000, Congress passed a 30-year, eight billion dollar plan to restore the Everglades. The new
coalition hopes to secure similar support.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Kaomi Goetz.
The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)
Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:
Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements
that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing
Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in
the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne
Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:
In theory, the proposed Agreements are supposed to provide a framework for using the water of the
Great Lakes. In reality, they’re about as leaky as a sunken lake freighter. The framework’s
there, but they fail to impose an overall limit on the volume of water that can be diverted,
or who can take it.
Not only that, but proposals to take less than a million gallons per day out of the basin won’t
require a region-wide review, several of these smaller withdrawals could eventually add up to a
whole lot of water. And whether it’s one large pipe or a lot of tiny ones, the end result is the
Given that the Great Lakes basin contains 20% of all the fresh water on the planet, diverting
some of it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, only 1% of that water is renewed each year.
It would be a good idea to first figure out how much water can be taken without disrupting the
ecological balance of the Lakes. Only once that’s been done should we be looking at allowing
And then there’s the threat of trade challenges. Each state or province that approves a water
taking permit won’t be paid directly for the water. Instead they’ll recieve a funding to upgrade
sewage treatment plants or to improve local habitats for example. Recently, a Canadian non-profit
asked for legal opinion about the Agreements. The response was that linking the approval process
to funding for public works basically means that the water is being sold, and under the terms of
NAFTA, once you’ve identified something as a commodity, you can’t restrict its sale.
Canadians should be particularly concerned about these Agreements. The Council of Great Lakes
Governors drafted them. And although the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have signed off on them,
in the end, neither province has the right to veto the decisions made by the Council. In my book,
that’s a lot like being invited to dinner and then being asked to leave before the main course.
And the reverse is true too. If Ontario or Quebec approves a withdrawal, states in the U.S.
wouldn’t have the ability to veto the decision. We share these lakes. If we are all called on
to protect the Great Lakes, then we all need to have an equal voice. That’s why our federal
representatives in Washington D.C. and Ottawa need to draw up a binding international agreement
on water withdrawals.
If nothing else, the proposed Agreements have made it clear that the Great Lakes must be
protected. And with 40 million users already relying on this irreplaceable resource, we clearly
need something better than these Agreements currently have to offer.
Host Tag: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario.