Gas Pipelines and Wind Turbines

  • Some residents of Mason County say they're concerned about the risk of a turbine falling and rupturing gas pipelines that run through Consumers Energy's new wind turbine site in West Michigan.(Photo by Erin Toner)

Officials in Mason County have given the green light to the first large scale wind farm near the Lake Michigan shore. Consumers Energy wants to have fifty-six turbines built and running before the end of next year. But some residents say in its rush to get going Consumers and the County are downplaying a serious threat to public safety. Bob Allen reports:

Natural gas pipelines run through the site of Consumers Energy’s wind park south of Ludington.

A group of residents says at least half a dozen of the windmills are within falling distance of a gas line. And they say if a turbine falls it could cause a pipeline to break with the risk of an explosion.

The pipes are buried four feet deep. Each turbine is nearly fifty stories tall. And it has a gear box, called a nacelle, that by itself weighs something like eighty tons.

Evelyn Bergaila is a member of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Renewable Energy.

“These turbines they can fall flat out. And having an eighty ton nacelle fall on top of a gas line would be a disaster for our community.”

Mason County approved a permit for the wind farm a couple of weeks ago.

The citizens’ group then sent out a package of material asking the governor, state lawmakers and regulators for help.

One of the pipelines moves sour gas that contains hydrogen sulfide. It’s a hazardous chemical.

If you inhale enough of it, it can kill you.

An engineer who installed sour gas pipelines for Dow Chemical says it wouldn’t even take a direct hit of a turbine onto a gas line to cause a rupture.

John Kreinbrink told Mason County officials in a public hearing the shock wave alone could split open a weakened pipe that operates under high pressure.

“From the e-mails that I’ve seen I think that sour gas pipeline operates at 900 psi. And the concentrations of sour gas in that line are immediately lethal.”

Gas pipelines are regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission. But the agency says it hasn’t run across this situation before. It doesn’t have a standard that says how far away wind turbines have to be from gas lines.

Dave Chislea is manager of gas operations for the MPSC.

He says he has searched around and hasn’t found any recommended setbacks in other states either. But he thinks the risk posed by a falling turbine is being exaggerated.

“I would say there’s a concern to some degree. But I’m not sure to the level that everyone else has made the concern.”

Chislea says it’s up to local governments to figure out how close turbines can be to existing gas pipelines.

Mason County doesn’t have a rule to specify that distance.

The County did say Consumers Energy had to relocate three of its turbines to get a permit. That was after the gas pipeline company complained.

In an e-mail obtained by the citizens group, the manager of the pipeline company said Consumers was steamrolling the project through and he would rather see more scrutiny than to sacrifice public safety.

Consumers declined to respond on tape for this story.

But County officials and Consumers, after a closed door meeting with pipeline engineers, say all the parties are now satisfied.

All except the citizen’s group.

Evelyn Bergaila agrees it’s a long shot that a turbine would topple over.

But she points out that it does happen.

“While the odds may be small, it doesn’t make any sense to be betting on the lives of the people in our community.”

Consumers Energy needs to get its Lake Winds Energy Park up and running to qualify for tens of millions of dollars in federal tax credits that are expiring at the end of next year.

The Citizens Alliance is considering whether it can afford to take the issue to court.

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Chefs Try to Get Americans to Eat Asian Carp

  • Chefs Tim Creehan (left) and Phillipe Parola with a bighead carp. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Two species of Asian carp, bighead and silver carp, have been swimming their way north toward the Great Lakes for decades. A lot of people are trying to keep the carp out of the Lakes.

Yesterday, attorneys general from around the country announced they’re putting more pressure on Congress to speed up action on Asian carp.

Some people think one solution is to create a market for the fish.

There are a couple of companies working to sell Asian carp to China… where the fish are considered a delicacy.

But winning over the American palate is much harder. Carp have a bit of an image problem…and they are full of bones.

“We are spoiled here, we like convenience. Everybody expects to have fish without bones, right? And that’s the issue.”

This is Chef Phillipe Parola. He’s from Baton Rouge and he wants you to learn to love Asian carp.

Parola is one of the chefs who tried to get Americans to eat nutria. Nutria look like oversized rats. So that didn’t go over so well.

Two years ago, Chef Parola found his new calling. He was out fishing in Louisiana, where the Asian carp are thick.

“With ten minutes, this fish started jumping everywhere. I’m like, what in the heck! Two of them, one after the other, landed right at my feet.”

He kept the giant carp, put them on ice, and took them home.

“To my surprise, when I saw the meat, as a professional chef, I knew right on that there’s no way that this fish could be bad, literally. When I went and cooked it, I’m going to tell you, it tasted between scallops and crab meat, there is no doubt.”

He’s learned to steam the fish to remove the bones. He’s working with his business partner, Chef Tim Creehan, to launch a processed Asian carp product to sell in grocery stores. They’ve even changed its name to make it more appealing. They’re calling it Silverfin.

(sound of cutting fish)

At the Dragonfly Mandarin restaurant in Chicago, the chefs are filleting a bighead carp for an audience of reporters.

(Phillipe: Can you hear the bones… crack crack crack, that’s the bones.”)

“And you’ve got the best, most beautiful flesh, it’s white, it’s appetizing! It’s a fish!”

And Chef Tim Creehan talked us into eating some carp.

“We went ahead and mixed these with béchamel French cream sauce, a little bit of cheese in it, used it to bind the cake, simply coated it with bread crumbs, and pan fried it, we’re serving it with a little spicy béarnaise sauce.”

So… the verdict?

It was pretty good. It didn’t taste fishy… it was similar to a crabcake. I’m not sure if it was the pan frying, or the buttery sauce… but it was surprising… and not in a bad way.

Now, to be clear, the chefs don’t see this as a way to get rid of the Asian carp. In fact, Chef Parola believes the carp are here to stay… which of course, could be good for business.
And this is where environmentalists and many scientists want to tread with caution.

David Lodge is a biologist at the University of Notre Dame.

“It’s always reasonable to make lemonade out of lemons. We have to be careful about how that’s described. It can at best be a contributor to a solution, it can’t be the solution.”

He says if a commercial harvest of Asian carp takes off… and people build an industry on the fish… there could be incentives to keep the carp around.

“Markets are not always compatible with the goal of eradicating a fish. So to drive the populations to a low abundance, there will have to be something other than purely a profit driven program.”

So even if Chefs Parola and Creehan can win over picky Americans with their silverfin cakes and fillets… it won’t be the end of the story of our Asian carp invasion.

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

The Oil Spill’s Effect on Wetlands

  • Todd Losee is a wetlands specialist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Here, he's surveying a site close to the Enbridge pipeline rupture. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

It’s been more than a year since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Environmental Protection Agency says much of that oil has been removed from the creek and the river. But the EPA says there are still close to one hundred areas of submerged oil on the bottom of the river. Enbridge is now working to remove that oil.

The company recently missed an EPA deadline to clean up all of the submerged oil and contaminated soils.

Jason Manshum is an Enbridge spokesperson.

“Well, you know, while we have focused on completing that directive by that deadline, we have not been willing to sacrifice that work quality solely in order to meet a specific date on a calendar.”

Manshum says they ran into a number of obstacles… hot weather, storms, and a shortage of the special equipment they need. And the biggest challenge: those areas of submerged oil expanded.

“Keep in mind, the river is obviously a moving body of water, nothing stays constant, nothing is the same. So we found some of those submerged oil locations had shifted and some had expanded.”

Both Enbridge and the EPA have previously stated that it’ll be impossible to clean up every last drop of oil.

“It’s pretty common, most people think it should be easy to get it all out, and it’s just really not.”

Mike Alexander is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He’s one of the incident commanders on the cleanup site.

“When you get down to smaller quantities, they get harder to get, just the nature of how the river’s different at different locations, it gets trickier, it’s not an easy project, it’s going to take time.”

The spill happened smack in the middle of some of the most sensitive wetland areas in the state.

Mike Alexander says the workers have to be careful not to damage the wetlands as they clean up the oil.

(buggy sound)

We take a marsh buggy ride out to the area where the pipeline ruptured, near Talmadge Creek. We travel over mat roads… they’re special temporary roads that are set up to limit the impact on the wetlands.

Todd Losee is a wetlands specialist with the DEQ.

“The spill occurred just upstream here, it’s a bowl shape as you can see, so it basically filled up with oil.”

He says this area is slowly coming back, with a lot of help.

“What we’re trying to do is restore a native wetland plant community, and the yellow flowers you see are a type of beggar’s tick, an annual plant that comes in pretty quick.”

Losee says it’s a good start… but trying to bring a wetland back takes years, even decades. He says the DEQ will hold Enbridge accountable for damage to these wetlands.

“Throughout the area where they’re impacting wetlands, we want them to put back wetlands and try to make it the best wetlands possible. Knowing that they may never be able to replace what they took, or what was impacted.”

And… he says there are some very special wetlands right in the heart of the spill zone. We climb back in the buggy and move to another site near Talmadge Creek.


(stream sound… with digging sound starting up)

On this site, Enbridge contractors are collecting soil samples.

Todd Losee points out an area of wetlands to our right.

“This wetland has extreme botanical qualities – it’s going to support similar diversity of insect life, migratory birds and bats and some of the mammals that live in that type of system.”

He says this kind of wetland is considered to be rare and imperiled. He says before the oil spill, this was one of the highest quality wetlands in southern Michigan.

“The spill went right through it, basically.”

State and federal officials are working on a damage assessment to find out how much of these rare wetlands have been lost after the spill. And they’ll determine what Enbridge might be able to try to replace.

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

The Future of Southeast Michigan’s Water (Part 2)

  • A wastewater treatment plant. (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Public Schools)

Detroit’s water department has been under federal oversight for almost 35 years. Recently, the city tried to get that oversight lifted. But the federal judge who monitors the department shot that effort down, and he ordered stakeholders to find a way to fix the system’s decades-long problems–within two months. Some people wonder about that short timeline—and whether some of the Judge’s suggestions hint at a possible takeover. Sarah Cwiek has the second of a two-part series on the future of Detroit’s water:

Judge Sean Cox’s September 9th order regarding the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has raised more than a few eyebrows. It has raised some tempers as well.

“There has been no public vote to give away, transfer, or dismantle the water department. We must stand and fight and sue if necessary.” [wild applause]

That’s the reaction Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson got last week, when she vowed to take a stand against perceived attempts to “take over” Detroit’s municipal water system.

Detroit’s water department has been a source of controversy and argument for many years. But everyone agrees on a few basic things.

The first is that the system—one of the nation’s oldest and largest—provides millions of people across southeast Michigan with safe, high-quality drinking water. But on the other end—the sewage treatment side–it doesn’t always do so well. They’ve been cited many times for releasing too much waste into the Detroit River. That’s why the department has been under a federal consent decree since 1977.

The city recently tried to get out from under that longstanding oversight—over the objections of its suburban customers. But U.S. District Judge Sean Cox denied Detroit’s effort, and ordered officials to come up with a comprehensive plan to fix the system’s problems—all within two months.


John McCulloch is the Water Resources Commissioner for Oakland County, one of the suburban counties that successfully protested Detroit’s efforts to end federal monitoring.

“Detroit’s well aware of what their problems are. So I don’t believe the 60 days is unrealistic.”

McCulloch says Judge Cox appropriately gave officials what he calls “a blank sheet of paper” to really fix them.

“And by that I mean he indicated they did not have to worry about any restrictions… city ordinances, city charter, or any contracts provided.”

But it’s that language that has raised many people’s hackles. Some Detroiters are already upset about a newly reconfigured water board that gives suburban officials some say in how the system is run. And they see this new order as a step toward even more regional control—and maybe, eventual privatization.

Lynna Kaucheck is with the group Food and Water Watch. She calls Judge Cox’s order a “heinous attack from the outside” on Detroit’s water system. Kaucheck says the order’s emphasis on ignoring city ordinances provides a back door route to private ownership.

“It’s really also the only way, at this point, that they can privatize the system… because of the current city charter, selling off an asset requires a vote by the people. That’s not gonna happen.”

But longtime department critic John McCulloch says the system belongs to Detroit. And he doesn’t necessarily favor privatization, either.

“I think privatization is always an option, but it’s not the panacea that some people make it out to be. I don’t think it’s in the best interest of Detroit and certainly of the region.”

But McCulloch says Detroit will need input from the whole region as it works to upgrade the system—both now and in the long run.

And that’s another thing everyone agrees on—there will need to be lots of upgrades. Detroit’s water infrastructure is among the nation’s oldest—in some cases, almost 200 years old. How the region chooses to deal with it may well set a precedent for other parts of the country.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Cwiek.

Detroit’s water department is also under the spotlight for another reason.

Federal officials allege former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and others manipulated the system for profit over many years. A trial is slated for next year.

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

The Future of Southeast Michigan’s Drinking Water (Part 1)

  • Detroit owns and operates the water system that serves more than three million people in southeast Michigan. (Photo by Alex Anlicker, Wikimedia Commons)

If you live in southeast Michigan, chances are you get your water through Detroit’s municipal water system.

Detroit owns and operates the system that serves more than three million people. That’s long been a major source of tension between the city and suburban communities.

Some recent events have pushed questions about system’s long-term future into sharper focus. And it’s shaping up to be a battle.

Sarah Cwiek has the first of a two-part series:

In 2006, the state government and county governments got federal money to build a state-of-the-art, real-time drinking water monitoring system that serves more than million people in southeast Michigan.

But those funds have dried up, and no one set up a long-term funding source for the system, which costs about a million dollars a year to operate.

So, do some quick math. If everyone the system serves chipped in another 33 cents a year, everything would be fine, right? In theory, yes, says Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

“I’ve heard everything from 25 cents a year to a dollar a year per household. Whatever that might be, it’s very minimal.”

BUT—here’s the catch. All water rate hikes have to go through the city of Detroit. But some suburban officials don’t want to raise rates at all—they think Detroit sets the rates too high already.

And there, in a nutshell, is the reason a region blessed with an abundance of water still fights over it. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was built to serve—well, Detroit. But over the past 50 years, its service area has changed dramatically—Detroit’s population has plummeted, and the metro area has sprawled. And that’s become a problem.

[sound of people yelling]

One didn’t have to spend long at this week’s Detroit City Council to get the sense that Detroiters are passionate about maintaining control over their water department. Many call it one of the city’s remaining “jewels:” something the city has built and managed over nearly 200 years—one which Detroiters still disproportionately bear the legacy costs of. And they see increasing evidence that suburbs want to take control away.

At least, that’s how Detroiter Lee Gaddies sees it.

“Oakland and Macomb counties don’t want to build their own water department. They can’t afford to do it. They have attached on to the city of Detroit’s asset that the city of Detroit has built. Therefore, they are customers. They have no right to ownership.”

But suburban officials have long contested that view, and an agreement reached earlier this year reflects that. It re-organized the Water Board to provide for some suburban representation—though Detroit continues to oversee day-to-day operations.


But even bigger changes may be in store. The department has been under federal oversight since 1977 for intermittent wastewater violations. Recently, a federal judge ordered stakeholders to come up with a plan to fix those ongoing problems—all within the next 60 days.

Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh is one of the people tasked with crafting that plan. He says it’s important for Detroit to keep control of the system.

“We will fight to the death to make sure that the city maintains control of the water and sewerage department. But at the same time, we want to be in compliance. We want to get out from under this judge’s order, and we want our water to be safe.”

Pugh doesn’t think the end goal is to wrest control away from Detroit.

“I don’t think that’s even an issue…that we lost ownership or control.”

But others see things in a more sinister light. They warn of impending moves to completely take over the water system—and possibly put it in private hands.

Those issues are set to be decided over the next two months—two months that will be crucial in shaping a water system that serves millions of people.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Cwiek.

Many observers see red flags in a federal judge’s order to craft a plan for fixing the Detroit water department in the next 60 days. They read the Judge’s suggestion that officials ignore the city charter and union contracts as a warning—that the system will be regionalized, and possibly handed over to a private corporation. We’ll hear more about this on Tuesday on the next Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

City Tree Census & Giant Fish Collection

  • Bill Fink is the Museum of Zoology's curator of fishes. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Grand Rapids, Adrian and Ann Arbor are taking part in a tree study that could help other Michigan cities assess their own urban forests. Lindsey Smith reports the study will make a tree assessment more accurate and affordable for cities:

Grand Rapids spent tens of thousands of dollars to find more information about the city’s trees. They came away with valuable information like how much greenhouse gases and water runoff the trees absorb. But city owned trees make up only a tiny portion of the overall urban forest in Grand Rapids.

Tyler Stevenson is the city forester. He says they discovered more than half of Grand Rapids’ trees are maples.

“Is that true for the entire community – we don’t know. And it’d be interesting information and it would also help to increase the awareness of the public on how valuable the trees on their property are.”

Federal officials will use the data from the study to enhance existing software. Other communities in Michigan will be able to use that software for free to calculate data about their own trees.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

Here in Michigan, we have the world’s largest collection of dead fish. At least, the world’s largest collection that’s based at a university.

There are about 3.5 million fish in this collection. It belongs to the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.

“I’m Bill Fink, I’m the director of the Museum of Zoology and curator of fishes.”

He’s offered to take me on a guided tour. We take the elevator to the basement… where there’s row after row of shelves full of glass jars… full of fish.

(glass jars clinking)

“These specimens are from Japan and they were collected in 1920s – we have specimens that are well over a hundred years old now and they look fine.”

Bill Fink says these fish have been collected from all over the world, sometimes at great risk to the scientists. He points out the box of jars from Vietnam.

“They were collecting during war, the Mekong River Survey, they were shot at and captured and escaped and there were lots of adventures.”

Bill Fink is not just the curator here… he also goes out in the field. He says some of the fish themselves are dangerous for the collectors.

“We also have a huge collection of piranhas right here…”

(rolling of trunk)

“I’ve been there when people have been bitten but I personally have not been bitten. I’m really careful.”

Fink shows me some amazing fish… like the tiny anglerfish with its appendage that glows in the dark at the bottom of the ocean.


And there’s a special sort of vault here.

(keys jingling, opening lock)

“This room contains what are called type specimens. When new species is described, a single specimen is taken to be the name bearer – so there’s never any question about what that name applies to.”

So these fish are especially valuable.

Bill Fink holds up a jar with a red label. It’s a sucker from Arkansas collected in the 1890s. This species is now extinct. So Fink says he couldn’t dissect the fish specimen to study it. He took this very special fish to the University of Texas to use their CT scanner to study the fish’s skeleton.

“I hand carried it with me to Texas before the days they stopped you and frisked you – RW: ‘that’s more than 3 fluid ounces’ – it is! Probably I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane with it.”

A number of these fish represent species that are extinct. Fink says that makes the collection irreplaceable. And in fact, it’s a lending library. Scientists around the world can literally check out fish – or their tissues – and use them to ask questions about genetics, evolution, climate change.

“The fact we have these materials, we have them archived, we have them documented means can go back and apply new technologies to ask new questions we couldn’t even have imagined when specimens were being collected. It’s really cool.”

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

Dupont Tree Replacement & Salmon Pollution

  • Platte Lake. (Photo by Chris Harnish, courtesy of Interlochen Public Radio)

A few months ago, reports started coming in that an herbicide made by DuPont was hurting and killing trees. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered DuPont to stop selling the herbicide Imprelis. DuPont had suspended sales shortly before that. The herbicide was used by lawn care companies to kill weeds on lawns and golf courses starting last fall.

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture at Michigan State University.

He says Imprelis can cause a range of different injuries to blue spruce, Norway spruce and white pine.

“You might see like in a big white pine, you might see a little bit of top growth doesn’t look quite right, you’ll see the twisting and curling, stunting of the top of the tree, in other cases, yeah we’ve seen the tree killed outright.”

This week, DuPont announced a program to process damage claims from property owners. DuPont declined an interview. But in a statement, the company said property owners with approved claims will receive replacement trees – or cash compensation.

DuPont’s also facing a number of lawsuits.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

Decades ago, residents sued to stop a fish hatchery in northern Michigan from polluting a lake. More than thirty years later, the legal battles have ended and the pollution has been greatly reduced. Here’s more from Peter Payette:

Northern Michigan is home to some of the clearest blue lakes in the world, like Torch, Glen and Crystal.

Once upon a time Wilfred Sweicki says Platte Lake in Benzie County was in that league.

“It was extremely clear, never quite as clear as Crystal or Glen but nearly so.”

Unfortunately for Sweicki and other homeowners on Platte, fishery biologists did something nearby that changed the Great Lakes dramatically.

They planted Pacific salmon in the Platte River.

That was in the late sixties and soon a billion dollar fishery was born.

A hatchery was built and animal waste from millions of fish began pouring into Platte Lake. The waste contained the nutrient phosphorus.


Phosphorous caused algae to bloom, clouding the water and killing a variety of aquatic animals and plants.

It even caused chemical changes in the sediment of the lake bottom that produced milky clouds of a clay-like substance that collects on stones and docks.

Swiecki remembers the change.

“I spent my summers up here when I was a kid…I knew this lake like the back of my hand…went to college…came back up and oh my gosh, it was 1969 and we lost the lake.”

A few years later homeowners sued.

They won but getting the problem under control has been a slow and contentious process.

Over the years, the state has reduced the amount of phosphorous going into the lake and it has cleared up.

Recently, the state and the Platte Lake Improvement Association have made great strides.

For the last year and a half the amount of phosphorous escaping the hatchery has been close to zero.

Gary Whelan oversees the state’s hatchery system for the Department of Natural Resources. Whelan says they didn’t think it was possible to get the discharge levels this low.

“We’re as low as any place I’m aware of in North America.”

The other notable thing about all this is that the dispute ended on a friendly note.

Wilfred Swiecki says the fight was nasty at times. He compares the DNR in the seventies to automobile companies fighting against rules for tailpipe emissions.

But he speaks highly of Gary Whelan. He says under Whelan the state even hired the lake association’s expert witness to be their consultant.

“They had enough faith in his scientific abilities…he’s now our implementation coordinator.”

But the work isn’t entirely finished. Under the settlement agreement the state still has to pay for monitoring of the hatchery for at least another four years.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

Study: Phthalates Affect Child Development

  • The federal government has banned certain types of phthalates in children's products, but the chemicals are still in many other products including cars, flooring, shower curtains, cosmetics, shampoos and lotions. (Source: Toniht at Wikimedia Commons)

Phthalates are a class of chemicals that have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system. They’re used in all kinds of consumer products including flooring, cars and cosmetics.

A new study published today finds a significant link between pregnant women’s exposure to phthalates and negative impacts on their children’s development.

Robin Whyatt is a professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and she’s the lead author of the study. She and her team have an ongoing study of more than 700 mothers and their children that began in 1998.

For this particular study, they looked at about half of those mother-child pairs. They measured phthalate levels in the mothers’ urine and compared those levels to several developmental tests on their children, who are now three years old.

“As levels in the mothers’ urine went up, the child’s motor development went down significantly.”

She says the types of phthalates they studied appear to affect the babies’ brain development while they’re still in utero.

“Three of the phthalates were significantly associated with behavioral disorders, or behavioral problems: anxious, depressed behaviors, emotionally reactive behaviors, withdrawn behavior.”

Whyatt says they controlled for a long list of factors. They looked at tobacco smoke, lead, pesticides, and other toxic substances.

“We controlled for race and ethnicity, gestational age. We looked at marital status, we looked at a number of different indicators of poverty and also how much hardship a woman was going through.”

And she says still, there was a significant link between the mothers’ phthalate levels and their children’s development.

“Our findings are concerning because saw a two to three fold increase in the odds that the child would have motor delays and or behavioral problems.”

But she says more research is needed. And parents should keep in mind that any individual child’s risk is low.

But Robin Whyatt says phthalates are everywhere.

You can find them in cosmetics and hair products and fragrances, because they help retain scent. You might absorb some kinds of phthalates through your skin, or in your food, or just by breathing.

But Whyatt says there’s limited evidence to know exactly how you’re getting exposed, or what to do to lower your exposure. The federal government has banned certain phthalates in children’s products. Robin Whyatt says you can read labels and cut down on products containing phthalates, but there haven’t been any studies to know how much that helps.

For now, she says the best thing you can do for your child’s development is to spend time with them.

“Reading to your child, interacting with your child, that has more effect than any of these environmental toxicants we’re talking about.”

The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.


(music bump)

New research from the University of Michigan reinforces why it’s important to keep kids from being exposed to lead. Steve Carmody reports:

It’s long been known that relatively high blood lead levels can negatively affect children’s IQ.

New research finds it can also affect a child’s motor skills.

Dr. Howard Hu, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, studied children between the ages of three and seven in Chennai, India. Half the children studied had relatively high levels of lead in their blood. Those children tested significantly lower on motor skill tests… like using peg boards and copying pictures… than children with far less exposure to lead.

Dr. Hu says the Indian children’s blood lead levels are about two to three times that of American children. Lead is still a problem in Michigan….with children still being exposed to aging lead paint in homes…lead in pipes…and lead contamination in soil.

For the Environment Report, I’m Steve Carmody.

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

Cleanup Jobs & Health Concerns After Oil Spill

  • Worker covered in oil works to remove oil among Talmadge Creek vegetation near Marshall, Michigan. (Photo taken August 2, 2010 by USEPA)

The federal government says it will spend six million dollars to hire jobless workers for Great Lakes cleanup projects. Sarah Hulett reports:

Conservation groups often make the claim that environmental cleanup and restoration efforts are good for the economy.

Andy Buchsbaum works for one of those groups. He heads the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation, which lobbied aggressively for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The federal government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the initiative. It includes projects like toxic pollution cleanup, restoring wildlife habitat, and fighting invasive species.

Buchsbaum says projects like those will need lots of engineers, landscapers and construction workers.

“They’re the people who actually move the dirt, move things around, constructing sewage facilities, cleaning up contaminated sediment. All those activities have a variety of direct jobs associated with them.”

Buchsbaum says there are also indirect jobs created when those people start spending money on things like groceries and rent.

The Environmental Protection Agency is likening the hiring initiative to the Civilian Conservation Corps – the New Deal program that put single, unemployed men to work doing manual labor.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Hulett.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

It’s been more than a year since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruprtured… spilling more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. The cleanup continues. And people who live near the river say they’re worried about what they might have been exposed to when the spill happened… and what they might still be getting exposed to.

The majority of the oil has been cleaned up, but there are still significant amounts of submerged oil on the bottom of the river.

The Michigan Department of Community Health recently put out a report on the risks of contact with that submerged oil.

Jennifer Gray is with the MDCH.

“We concluded that in terms of long term health issues, so health issues that would stay with you after the contact was done, or things like developing cancer, that contact with the chemicals in the submerged oil wouldn’t really cause these kinds of effects.”

She says people could have short term health effects from contact with the oil – things such as skin irritation.

The assessment did not include any health risks from breathing in chemicals from the remaining oil. Jennifer Gray says her agency is currently evaluating air monitoring data from the early days of the spill… and says they’re continuing to look at other ways people might be exposed to the oil that remains.

The areas of the Kalamazoo River that were affected by the spill are still closed for recreation.

People who live near the spill site want local officials to conduct a long-term health study.

Riki Ott is a marine toxicologist from Alaska. She’s spent the past two decades charting health problems from people who live near the site of the Exxon Valdez spill and last year’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She’s in Battle Creek this week to talk with people affected by the Kalamazoo River spill.

“I could have zipped back in time and it would be the same things as Exxon Valdez residents and workers, the same thing I’ve heard in the Gulf for a full year and here now. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, rashes, these things are not going away. People want answers.”

Ott says it’s too early to rule out the potential of long term health effects from the Kalamazoo River oil spill.


“If the state is acknowledging there could be short term health effects, then that means there could also be long term health effects.”

The Calhoun County Health Department has petitioned the federal government for a long term health study on residents.

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