Oil Spilled While No One Reacted

  • Booms across the river to try to contain the spill. Governor Granholm has called the cleanup efforts inadequate. (Photo by Steve Carmody)

One of the biggest oil spills ever in the Midwest.
An underground pipeline that carries crude oil from Indiana to Ontario sprung a leak earlier this week. The EPA estimates more than 1 million gallons of oil have spilled into a creek near Marshall, Michigan. Now oil has flowed into the Kalamazoo River.

Government warns Enbridge of potential problems
A Pattern: another Enbridge pipeline spills oil
Background on the company


Officials are hoping to stop the oil before it gets into Morrow Lake, which is about 60 miles from Lake Michigan.

(UPDATE 6:15pm – 7/29/10: The EPA and Enbridge say the oil has not reached Morrow Lake. Several dozen homes in the area are being evacuated)

Here’s Police Captain Tom Sands. He did a flyover Wednesday afternoon to assess the damage.

SANDS: Some of the oil has gone over the dam and it’s a very light sheen at that point, once the water mixes over the dam you see a little bit of sheen on the river.

GRANHOLM: The situation is very serious.

That’s Governor Granholm. She says Enbridge Energy Partners, the Canadian company responsible for the leak, and the EPA had promised to send more resources to try to contain the spill.

GRANHOLM: And the new resources that have been provided so far are wholly inadequate.

Health officials say the area where the spill occurred is highly toxic. They want people to stay away from the river. That means no boating, no fishing, no swimming.
When I drove to Marshall yesterday, I could smell the oil from the highway. Basically everywhere you go in Marshall you can smell the oil.
Kayla Nelson lives in Marshal and she says it’s bad.

NELSON: I’m kinda scared to drink the water but I’m not sure. I haven’t heard anything but I’m just kind scared myself to drink it.

EPA officials are testing the water to see if it’s safe to drink. A county official I talked to said if people are worried about it, they should not boil the water. Instead, he recommends drinking bottled water.

Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra has also been following the story. So Jen, Enbridge has promised to not only pay for the cleanup but to cleanup everything. Is that really possible?

GUERRA: Well, I talked to Peter Adriaens, he’s a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, and he says no.

ADRIAENS: We cannot restore the site to exactly to what it was before any spill occurred. All we can remedy it as much as possible, minimize the exposure of wildlife and we can minimize health effects and we can try to contain it.

GUERRA: The official cause of the leak is unknown. Enbridge did shut down the pipeline, but there are questions as to when Enbridge knew about the leak and when they reported it to the authorities.

WILLIAMS: Right, residents like Debbie Trescott say they could smell oil on Sunday. She lives southwest of Marshall.

TRESCOTT: Sunday morning I came in to get groceries and it was about 9:30 in the morning, maybe 10 o’clock and I smelled this oil. This was just horrible, and as I almost got to A drive it was just a horrible smell and I knew then that something must be wrong.

WILLIAMS: So, Trescott smelled oil Sunday morning, but the energy company says they didn’t detect the spill until around 10:30 Monday morning.

GUERRA: Right, so now that the oil is there, we wondered what the long term effects are. I asked Peter Adriaens, he’s the professor at U of M, and he said one of the many chemicals in oil is benzene. It’s a neurotoxin, which is bad, so if you have a big oil spill like the one in the Kalmazoo River in the summer, that benzene can evaporate and gets into the air quickly.

ADRIAENS: Inhalation of high concentrations in the air is very toxic from neurological and a number of other perspectives.

GUERRA: Again, that’s a possible long term effect.

WILLIAMS: Thanks Jen

GUERRA: Thanks.

WILLIAMS: The smell is so bad in Marshall, that a lot of people near the spill site are relocating to hotels, but now all the hotels in the area are booked, so the Red Cross has set up a shelter for people who want to leave their homes. The energy company officials say they’ll have frequent updates, but last night they canceled a press conference two minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Greenovation: New Storm Windows

  • Matt Grocoff’s 110-year-old house was recently painted with eco-friendly paint and new storm windows cover refurbished wood windows. Grocoff is attempting to make his house the oldest net-zero energy home in America. (Photo by Lester Graham)

We’ve been following Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero energy house in America. Last time we talked to him, instead of replacing his windows, he was refurbishing the 110-year-old wood framed windows. Lester Graham checked to see just how well that worked.
More from Greenovation.TV
The Clean Energy Coalition
Repairing old windows


The old windows in Matt’s house were drafty, but he didn’t like the idea of all the resources, energy and cost that replacing the windows meant. He got some help and took them apart, got them working right, painted them, and sealed the window panes the gaps. Today is the big test.

(blower sound)

Nick Helmoholdt with with the Clean Energy Coalition. He’s conducting a blower door test to see whether the Grocoff house is any tighter.

LG: “What kind of improvement did just refurbishing the old windows do for the house?”

NH: “Roughly two-thirds the air infiltration was reduced.”

LG: “Is this typical when you see a house just replace the windows?”

NH: “I have never seen this before. I am very impressed with the amount of leakage that was reduced from this repair. This is really, really impressive.”

So a 66-percent reduction in air infiltration by just fixing up the old windows.
Matt Grocoff is pretty happy.

MG: “I think it’s a lot better than new windows because we’ve proven you can make these old windows way more energy efficient and for a lot less money.”
LG: “But that’s not today’s project. Today’s project is putting these storm windows on which, I have to say, really look nice.”

MG: “It looks great! The house looks amazing right now, and especially in a historic district, putting a good storm window on is accepted by a lot of historic associations. The big bang for the buck that we’re going to get out of these storm windows is the Low-E glass that we have and a little bit of thermal insulation by creating a secondary glazing. What that means is that we have almost the equivelent of a dual-pane window.”

LG: “You mentioned Low-E glass. What’s that and what does it do?”

MG: “Low-E stands for low emissivity and what that means is that Low-E glass is just an invisible coating that keeps the heat from coming into your house and heating it up like a greenhouse. I can show you right here. If you put your hand here, we’ve got just a single pane up right now.”

LG: “Yeah, I can feel the sunshine coming through.”

MG: “And you can feel the sill, and you switch this up, pull the sill down with the Low-E glass, you can feel almost instantly how much cooler it is. You don’t get that greenhouse heat coming through.”

LG: “Cool.”

MG: “The other cool benefit is that it filters out all the UV light so it prevents your furniture from getting bleached and everything. We’ve got that red sofa over there facing a south wall. So, we could use all the help we can to help our furniture from fading.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think about storm windows, I think of those old bare aluminum windows that just weren’t all that attractive. Those days are past. Bill Trapp with the George W. Trapp Company supplied these new windows… and he says they come in a lot of colors to match paint schemes.

BT: “And we have people from all over the country calling us right now, getting storm windows in grey and red and green and all these different colors. And also, there are different levels of storm windows as well and I like to think we make the tightest one out there.”
LG: “Well, I can’t verify that, but they did pass the ole Matt Grocoff test, so Matt that’s the windows. Thanks, and I’ll talk to you on your next project on the house.”

MG: “Thank you, Lester, and here’s to staying cool.”

That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV. I’m Lester Graham with The Environment Report.

Cats Clogging Computers

  • Dander from pets and household dust are the enemy of keeping computers cool. (Photo by Mattes - creative commons license)

You probably know to let your computer go to sleep when you’re not using it to save energy. Your monitor at work might be set to shut off automatically, but as Ann Dornfeld reports, your computer’s energy efficiency may have an unexpected enemy – your pets.

How to clean your computer

Tips on computer vacuuming from the Guru Guys

Department of Energy’s advice on when to turn off your computer


Alex Mamishev is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington. He says modern computers have a lot of energy-saving features built in. Like screens that dim when you aren’t using them, and hibernation mode as the default setting, but he says despite these high-tech strides toward energy efficiency, some decidedly low-tech things can mess it all up. Like pillows, and pet hair. That’s because they can block the vents to the computers internal fans.

“When the computer gets clogged, the fans have to work harder. If you put a computer on a – a laptop on a pillow, for example, and leave it on a pillow for a while it’ll overheat and eventually stop.”

Dust can block the vents, too. When your computer’s vents get blocked, the fans can run constantly. Mamishev says that’s a big energy suck.

“It could, depending where you are, how expensive energy is, could add several hundred dollars per year to an energy bill.”

“Several hundred dollars per year?”


Mamishev says the bigger the processor, the more easily a computer overheats. So he doesn’t worry about his tiny netbook like he does his heavy-duty office computer.

“My five-year-old has even more powerful computer for his gaming. Typical, the child has the most powerful computer in the house.”

Mamishev says office computers don’t tend to get as dusty as home computers because offices are often vacuumed frequently.

“I have very clean office here. There are books, it’s only me here usually. Household is different. I know that at my home, this backside of computer looks horrible.”

One reason? Cats.

“Pets are typically drawn to the warmth of the computer, and the hair definitely clogs up the filter.”

“So if when you come home from work your cat is sleeping on your laptop you might want to vacuum it.”

“Vacuum the cat?”

“It’s a start.”

Mamishev says vacuuming is actually the best way to clean dust and pet hair out of your computer’s vents. You can even buy a tiny vacuum that plugs into your computer’s USB port, but Mamishev says a regular vacuum should work fine.

My friend Andrea and I gave it a shot.

“Okay, so we have one laptop with a loud fan and some dust in the vent holes… our upright vacuum, our wand and the little brush that came with it, and we’re just going to hold it up to the vents…”

(sound of vacuuming)

“What do you think? Is that good enough?

“Does that look cleaner? I dunno! Oh yeah, it is cleaner! It looks cleaner.”

“So we can go take ourselves out to dinner and celebrate, right?”

“With the extra money we’re gonna save now. (laughs) Right. (laughs) Drinks on me!”

Along with vacuuming your computer’s vents, Alex Mamishev says you should keep the computer in a well-ventilated area. That means placing your tower computer away from heaters, and letting air circulate around it. For laptops, avoid setting them on soft surfaces like the bed or sofa for long periods. Mamishev says there’s another way to make your computer more energy efficient. Just turn it off.

I’m Ann Dornfeld.

I ran this idea by our systems administrator, Rusty Brach, and he says it is safe to vacuum the outside case of your computer and the keyboard.  But he says you want to use extreme caution before you vacuum the inside of your computer.  If you do that, you’ll want to use a small, battery powered vacuum, ground yourself and be very careful. The static electricity could nuke your hard drive, so be careful!  If this makes you a little bit nervous, you can also use canned air on the inside and the outside of your computer.  You can get more advice on vacuuming your computer at environment report dot org.  I’m Rebecca Williams.

Recycling Made Easier

  • The Environment Report

No more sorting…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Let’s be honest. Recycling can be a pain. Sorting out the glass from the plastic from the paper… takes a lot of time. But some communities in Michigan have switched to recycling you can do with your eyes closed. It’s called single stream recycling.
An animated video explaining single stream
Single stream in Grand Rapids
Midland goes single stream


You can just toss everything into one cart… and your city’s new recycling facility sorts it for you.

At least 25 communities in Michigan already have this system. It’s rolling out this summer in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Midland. And it’s coming soon to Lansing.

Curt Curavo manages the Materials Recovery Facility in Ann Arbor. He says the new system uses machines and people to sift through the materials.

“If you’re a kid and you go to the beach and you’re playing with the sifters, making sandcastles and as you go through you want the smaller sand to go in one direction, larger granules in another, rocks in a third, and that’s essentially what we do.”

The system uses optical scanners – devices that scan the belt to sort materials. Then the machine shoots a blast of air to blow plastic bottles up onto a different belt and separate it from the paper.

(Sound under…)

Experts say this kind of system increases how much a city recycles… and saves on landfill fees.

Jim Frey is a recycling consultant with Resource Recycling Systems and he’s been involved with implementing these new systems throughout the Midwest.

I asked him what this’ll mean for homeowners:

“Communities across the country that have done this double, triple the amount of recycling they do at the home. Amongst the things here locally, that you’ll be able in the Ann Arbor area to recycle, is you’ll be able to add large plastic containers – this will be kitty litter buckets, five-gallon pails, plastic furniture that’s been broken, along with what we call all plastic bottles along with plastic containers, except for Styrofoam and number three – what happens is when you add all those things up, as much as three quarters, 75 percent, of what your home generates, probably can go in your recycling bin.”

So in Ann Arbor, with this new system, you’re actually going to be rewarding people for recycling. How is this going to work?

“So the citizen, the household, will have their cart and their cart actually has a small identification chip on it that recognizes when that cart is actually being moved by the truck and each recycling event then becomes recorded and it then allows the householder to earn points. Then you can reimburse those points for gift cards that you essentially have the range of thousands of different options. The value for a home on an annual basis can be anywhere on average anywhere from about 240 dollars to as high as over 500 dollars a year. Most families would like that.”

If my community doesn’t have single stream recycling, how do I get it?

“Fortunately, as more of these recycling facilities are developed across the country and across Michigan, many communities will be able to say ‘where’s the nearest one?’ And once they find out where that facility is they can actually contract directly with that facility to take their recyclables there and we actually encourage that because one of the things that does is it allows that facility for years and years and years and years and years and years to be the place where all of your recyclables go. So most places in the southern part of Michigan have a place where they could make arrangements to take their curbside recyclables to and that’s really what Michigan needs to do across the state.”

Jim Frey is a recycling consultant with Resource Recycling Systems. Thank you so much for your time.

“It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.”

You can see a behind-the-scenes video of single stream recycling at environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Thanks to Suzy Vuljevic for her help with this story.

Fixing a Broken Ecosystem

  • Steve Dahl is a commercial fisher on the North Shore of Lake Superior. When he's fishing for herring, Dahl pulls his gill net up and passes it across his boat, plucking herring from the mesh. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)

For decades, exotic species have been invading the Great Lakes and mixing up the ecosystem. A few years ago the constant changes led to the collapse of the food web in Lake Huron. That event has gotten people interested in restoring native fish with the hope that they’ll be more stable, but as Peter Payette reports, not everyone wants the food web in the Great Lakes to look exactly like it did a century ago.
The Herring Replacements: the Beloved Alewife
Say it together now… “Coregonus artedi”
More from the Wisconsin Sea Grant


Once upon a time, every Great lake was stuffed with lake herring. Trout would feast on them and so would people all over the Midwest, sometimes smoking or pickling the white flaky meat. Herring can grow more than two feet long. Every year commercial fishing nets would haul tens of millions of pounds of herring out of the lakes.

Fisheries biologist Mark Ebener says herring, or cisco, would lay so many eggs in the fall it was a food source for other fish. Ebener says it still is in Superior.

“You go into parts of Lake Superior in December and the whitefish are just gorged on cisco eggs.”

But herring largely disappeared from the lakes in the middle of the last century for a variety of reasons including overfishing. Biologists like Mark Ebener thinks restoring the fish should be a top priority. He’s with Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority.  It’s a tribal fishing agency based in Sault Ste. Marie. Some Michigan tribes have commercial fishing rights on the Great Lakes that date back to treaties signed in the 19th century. They’d like the states to be more aggressive about restoring native species. Ebener says if we want a stable ecosystem in the lakes, herring are crucial. 

“It was the prey species. So if you want to restore the connectivity of the lakes and the historic predator-prey dynamics, why would you ignore herring”

 While nobody would admit to ignoring the fish, figuring out exactly what happened to lake herring has not been a priority, but that’s changing.

Grand Traverse Bay is the only place herring are still known to breed in Lake Michigan. State fisheries biologists have been coming to this breeding ground near Elk Rapids for three years. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment wants to know why this remnant population doesn’t expand. Randy Claramont is the team leader. He says the primary suspect is an invasive fish that eats new born herring. They just picked one up in the net.

“There’s our predator. There’s a rainbow smelt. Right in where the cisco are, we also got an adult rainbow smelt.”

It’s not likely that a large scale effort to restore herring as the main prey fish in Lake Michigan would have universal support. That’s because the state is also responsible for managing the lake’s popular salmon fishery. Salmon are not native to the Great Lakes but are generally considered to be the most exciting sport fish to catch. Lots of anglers come up north to do this, so politically speaking, the salmon has clout.

 Jim Dexter, the Lake Michigan basin coordinator for the Michigan DNRE, doesn’t think salmon like to eat herring.

 “One thing that’s important to remember is that if you have a huge herring population,  I don’t think you’ll be able to maintain the type of salmon sport fishery that we currently have.”

But it’s a different story in Lake Huron where the salmon disappeared in 2004. That was after the food web, dominated by exotic species, crashed. The upheaval has sparked interest in rebuilding a more stable ecosystem, and that’s why the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association actively supports efforts to reestablish the herring in Huron. The state planted 40,000 herring there last year. Managers of the project think they’ll need to plant a million fish a year for a number of years to reestablish the species in the lake. That would cost millions of dollars.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

Replumbing Chicago to Keep Carp Out

  • These fish get big. They eat a lot, and if they get into the Great Lakes, people worry they'll swallow up the food web. (Photo by the USFWS)

You might recall that Michigan got a kind of asian carp scare a few weeks back. Biologists found one asian carp near Chicago, past an electric barrier that was supposed to keep them away from Lake Michigan. They worry if carp make it to the Great Lakes and rivers in Michigan, they could crowd out native fish. Congress worries the barrier might not be enough and it wants a more permanent solution. Shawn Allee reports that won’t happen anytime soon.

“Eco-Sep” – The Corps of Engineers’ Study

Brush up on your Asian Carp Knowledge

More on the Electric Barriers


Joel Brammeier’s with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an advocacy group. When I meet him, I expect him to be completely freakin’ out, since just a few weeks ago biologists found one live Asian carp on the Great Lakes side of the electric carp barrier. That’s the, um, wrong side of the barrier, since we want Asian carp to stay on the other side, the side closer to the Mississippi. Anyway, Brammeier’s is either a good actor, or maybe he actually feels OK, since now other people, the right people, are freakin’ out, too. Those would be people in Congress.

“We’ve seen over the past few months, more energy devoted to predicting and preventing a crisis to the Great Lakes than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Brammeier says Congress doubts that electric barriers, poisons, or other gadgets will keep the carp out of Lake Michigan for good, so there’s talk about the mack daddy of Asian carp prevention: hydrological separation. This just means cutting off canals that connect Lake Michigan to rivers that head west. That’d make it impossible for carp to swim to the Lake.

“I think what folks are realizing now is that the only way to achieve that is physical separation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. That’s easy to say, but it’s incredably difficult to conceptualize how that happens.”

Brammeier says the good news is that back in 2007, Congress already asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to figure all this out. The bad news is that the study’s moving too slow for Congress. The Army Corps was planning to finish its proposal in, say, five years. Tomorrow, a U.S. Senate committee will debate asking the Corps to speed things up. They want the study finished in less than two years.

“Twelve to eighteen months with the right people, the right funding and leadership strikes me as a generous amount of time to get the answers we need.  It’s simply a matter of prioritization.”

“To do that in 18 months in my and my team’s opinion is not a reasonable assumption.”

This is Dave Wethington. He’s in charge of the study for the Army Corps of Engineers. Wethington says the real issue isn’t whether the Corps can propose some way of separating Lake Michigan from rivers that head west. He says it can do that. It’s that that there’s a lot to consider.

“What kind of impacts could there be to commercial shipping, passenger boats, recreational boats. What kind of flood risk could there be, to the Chicago area specifically.”

None of this is enough for some Michigan congressmen. Representative Dave Camp is from the 4th district.

“The problem is that it’s taking far too long. This will speed that up. What we’re trying to bring is this sense of urgency to the problem that, frankly, the bureacrats don’t get.”

Camp admits even if he gets his study eighteen months from now, he’d still have a problem. Re-jiggering the water canals around Chicago won’t be cheap, and there’d probably be a fight over that, too. Still, he says he’d rather have that fight sooner rather than later. After all, we might still have time to stop the carp’s invasion, but we’re pressing our luck if we wait too long.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

By the way, we still don’t know where that carp that was caught beyond the electric barrier came from.  Scientists are using DNA tests to figure out whether it just swam through the barrier or whether someone released it into the wild. Biologists say that happens from time to time.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Killing Off Cormorants

  • Some people blame the double crested cormorant for fishing woes, but researchers say the bird might actually help some fish populations. (Photo by USFWS)

Michigan wildlife officials are pushing for more control of a fish eating water bird. They want to double the number of cormorants killed in Michigan each year to about 20,000. Cormorants nest in colonies on islands in the Upper Great Lakes and Canada, and they can gobble up a lot of fish, but as Bob Allen reports, other researchers are not so sure killing cormorants will mean more perch, walleye and bass for anglers.

The MI DNRE says cormorant control works

A related TER story

More information from the USFWS


Thirty years ago, the double crested cormorant was a poster bird for toxic contaminants like DDT in the Great Lakes. Wildlife biologists used to take live birds with crossed bills and other deformities to public meetings to press for cleanup of the lakes. Since then toxins have been reduced and cormorant numbers have rebounded dramatically. There are now roughly 60,000 of the large black duck-like birds in Michigan alone, but that’s put anglers in an uproar.

For the last decade they’ve been complaining that cormorants are a plague on popular fishing grounds.

Wildlife officials responded by reducing the number of cormorant nests in Michigan by 40% over the last six years, and they want to cut the population in half.

They do that by shooting birds each spring and spraying vegetable oil on their eggs to smother them. In one popular perch fishing area, they took cormorant numbers down by 90%.

Dave Fielder is the lead researcher in the Les Cheneaux Islands of northern Lake Huron for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. He says he now sees the fishery there doing better and people catching more perch.

“You can’t go in and tweak it a bit and expect to measure. You’ve got to really punctuate the system in a big way so that you’re sure you can measure a response. And that the response can be attributed back to that management action.”

But not all researchers agree with Fielder’s findings.

Jim Diana is a professor of natural resources at the University of Michigan and director of the Sea Grant program in the state. He says many other factors, such as invasive species, contribute to fluctuating perch populations, and Diana says the evidence just isn’t there to show that if the cormorant population is cut in half there will be twice as good a fishery or even any better fishery over time.

“And so it’s all a guess work in my mind. And a guess work at the expense of a fair amount of management money to try to control them and also a cormorant population that many people would say has rights of its own.”

Another place DNRE officials want to hit hard is the Beaver Island chain. They say a large number of cormorants there may be feasting on smallmouth bass.

Nancy Seefelt is a bird specialist at the Central Michigan University field station on the island. When she examines the stomach contents of dead cormorants she finds they are not eating bass. They’re primarily feeding on a small fish called the round goby. The goby is an invasive species that’s exploding in numbers in the Great Lakes. Gobies feed on the eggs of perch and bass. Seefelt says cormorants may actually be helping those game fish populations.

“I think that cormorant control should be based on science and the data that we have as opposed to politics. So the current, I guess, control that’s happening in the Beaver Archipelago is not something I’d say I support.”

DNRE managers argue that cormorant numbers are so high they can’t wait ten years for researchers to come up with more definitive answers, and this summer they expect federal approval to double the yearly kill in Michigan to 20,000 adult birds.

For The Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

By the way, the Great Lakes population of cormorants winters in the Gulf states. It’s not yet clear how the oil spill will affect them.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Greenovation: Fixing Old Windows

  • Matt and Kelly Grocoff's house. They're trying to make their home the oldest net-zero energy home in America. That means it'll produce more energy than it uses. (Photo by Matthew Grocoff)

Out with the old… in with the old.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

There are a lot of ads out there encouraging you to replace those old drafty windows and get new energy efficient windows, but if you’ve got an older house, you might be able to refurbish your old windows, save some money and save energy. Lester Graham talked with Greenovation.TV’s Matt Grocoff. Grocoff is working to make his house the oldest net-zero energy home in America.

More from Greenovation.tv

See Other “Greenovation” segments

More on repairing wood windows


The windows in Matt’s home are drafty.

MG: “They’re really leaky. I mean it’s a 110-year-old house.”

Just how bad? Nick Helmholdt is a home energy auditor with Clean Energy Coalition. He set up a blower door test.

NH: “We get a number of how much draft the whole house has. The number we got from Matt’s house was 4400 cubic-feet-per-minute. LG: On a scale of one-to-ten, how bad is that? NH: “Nine-and-a-half. Bad. Too much is going out the window.”

So, time to replace the windows, right? Matt Grocoff decided rather than throw his old windows away… he’d recycle them. That means learning all about sashes and jams and weights and pullies. Sounds pretty complicated.

MG: “You know, at first I thought this was going to be really complicated as well. But then Lorri Sipes explained to me that this is something that is just so elegantly designed and really simple that once you understand how to do it, it’s a long, but doable do-it-yourself project.”

Lorri Sipes. She’s an architect. And she runs a business called the Wood Window Repair Company.

Now… this is where Matt starts thinking if he could get Lorri to hold a class… and the class used Matt’s windows in the lesson… well…


So for a weekend… Matt’s living room became a classroom… and Matt’s windows the project.

Doug Bernardin was one of the students. His house has already won an award from his historic district commission… but he’s got window problems.

DB: “And I’ve lived in older homes for most of my life and have never had top sashes that come down (class laughs). So, it’s a goal of mine to make that happen.”

And for the weekend… students like Doug helped make it happen at Matt’s house. Lorri Sipes says refurbishing one of these old windows is just not that complicated.

LS: “So, we take the sash out. We strip all the paint off. We strip the glazing, the glazing compound. We repair any wood that’s damaged. And then we re-paint the window. So, it’s nice and clean and looks gorgeous.”

Before it’s installed, bronze weather stripping is put in the jam and a silicone tube seal in the sash. Sealed pretty tight. Sipes says this is not just a matter of aesthetics. It’s about fixing up perfectly good windows.

LS: “How much energy does it take to make all those replacement windows? How much energy does it take to transport them all over the country? Even the best ones only last 25 to 30 years. In this house, which is over 100 years old, somebody would have to have done that four times.”

Sipes says if you have someone do it for you, it’d cost about $400 a window. But, if you do it yourself… or maybe get some help from, say, some students… Matt Grocoff says it’s cheap.

MG: “I will tell you first: it is a simple process. But, I’m not going to tell you it’s a short process. Once you understand how to do it, it’s a matter of time and labor. To do the entire house, the materials cost is only three-hundred-dollars. So, all of the cost is in your time in doing it.”

I stopped by after the weekend class… and Matt showed me a sash that had been stuck for decades.

(sound of Matt opening the window)

MG: “After 30 years of never opening, now it opens with one finger. Can’t get any cooler than that.”

But the windows are still single-paned. That’s why Matt’s getting new energy efficient storm windows. But… that’s a story for another day.

For The Environment Report. I’m Lester Graham.

You can see a photo gallery of Matt’s window project at environmentreport.org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Invasive Bugs Still on the March

  • Adult emerald ash borer (Photo by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Agriculture)

The emerald ash borer is still chewing its way through the state’s ash trees.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The emerald ash borer is a very expensive pest. It’s an invasive beetle from Asia that was first discovered eight years ago, near Detroit. It has killed more than 50 million ash trees just in Michigan alone. The beetle has also infested 13 other states and two Canadian provinces, and it has cost the state of Michigan millions of dollars.

That’s your tax money, and you might have also had to pay to have dead trees removed from your own yard.

More information on the invasive bugs

How to identify the bugs and larvae

A related TER story


Deb McCullough is here with me and she’s a professor of forest entomology at Michigan State University.

What’s the prognosis for Michigan’s ash trees?

“We’ve lost a lot and we’re going to lose even more. For example, Lansing and East Lansing – we’re right in the thick of it now, lots of dying trees, trees that died either last year, this year or will be dying in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, Grand Rapids had some infestations get started and they’re seeing a lot more dead and dying trees and it’s kind of rolling from the west to the east out of Grand Rapids. All these pockets that got started by firewood that was transported or infested ash nursery trees back before anybody knew about emerald ash borer. There are pockets of emerald ash borer in places like Traverse City and over by Alpena and Alcona County. We know that there are a number of localized and very spotty kinds of infestations in the Upper Peninsula as well.”

How much success do you believe that scientists like yourself, city managers, other people who are working on this… how much success have you had in slowing the beetle’s spread?

“I don’t know that we’re working really hard on that. I think the funding is pretty limited in terms of slowing the spread of the main infestations. The one area where we are trying some different approaches to slow the rate of the beetle in terms of its population growth and possibly to slow the spread is a pilot project that is underway in the Upper Peninsula to try to use a combination of insecticides and girdled ash trees and some targeted ash removals and harvests and so forth to slow the rate that the population spreads and slow down the progression of ash mortality out of these spots.”

So we’re in camping season now and moving infested firewood is one of the biggest ways we’ve been spreading the beetle. What do we need to know about moving firewood this summer?

“I do a lot of camping and we go fishing and we go hunting and in years past I always took firewood with me and I don’t do it anymore. It’s one of those things where we’re all just going to have to change our behavior because there are many of these outlier spots of emerald ash borer that we know got started from infested ash firewood that people took to an area. They left it. They didn’t burn it. The beetles came out and it only takes a couple of beetles to get a whole new infestation started. ”

“It’s illegal, you’re not allowed to take firewood across the Mackinac Bridge from Lower Michigan into Upper Michigan. You can’t take firewood across the southern border of Michigan. So we’re really asking people to get their firewood locally. A lot of times you can collect it locally or you can buy it from a supplier and just not start any more problems like these.”

Deb McCullough is a forest entomologist at Michigan State University. Thank you so much for talking with us.

“Okay, thank you.”

And that’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.