A new government report recommends wide distribution of a protective pill to people who live near nuclear power plants. But many states with power plants don’t offer the pill. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A new government report recommends wide distribution of a protective pill to people who live
near nuclear power plants. But many states with power plants don’t offer the pill. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The National Academy of Sciences is recommending states make potassium iodide pills readily
available to people who live near nuclear power plants. If taken shortly before or after exposure
to radiation, potassium iodide pills can prevent thyroid cancer caused by exposure to radioactivity
that could be released in an accident or attack on a nuclear power plant.
But some states don’t plan to distribute potassium iodide pills. The states say it’s too complex to
stockpile, distribute and deal with proper dosages for the general public. The states also say
potassium iodide provides only partial protection and best and might give people a false sense of
security, tempting them to stick around to gather belongings when they should be evacuating as
quickly as possible in a nuclear emergency.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The nation’s first high-speed ferry will soon carry passengers and cars across Lake Michigan between Muskegon and Milwaukee. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The nation’s first high-speed ferry will soon carry passengers
and cars across Lake Michigan between Muskegon and Milwaukee. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
It took six hours to cross Lake Michigan in 1970, the last year a
passenger and auto ferry linked Muskegon and Milwaukee. The new ferry,
the Lake Express, will make the trip in about a third of the time. The
catamaran features a lightweight aluminum construction and four engines
with a combined 12,000 horsepower. Developer David Lubar says the biggest
customers are likely to be vacationing families and people who want to
bypass the Chicago commute.
“People are highly frustrated driving through Chicago, you don’t know if it’s going to take a half
hour or two hours.”
Lake Express is currently under construction and has a launch date of June
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.
The Food and Drug Administration is going back to square one in its attempt to come up with guidelines for fish consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Food and Drug Administration is going back to square one in its attempt to come up
with guidelines for fish consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
A scientific advisory panel indicated the FDA missed the mark in a proposed advisory on
mercury in fish. The agency will try again. Environmentalists are critical of the FDA for
assuming that people regularly eat all kinds of fish when many families usually eat just a few
kinds… with tuna being very popular. Tuna is higher in mercury than some other types of fish.
Gina Solomon is a medical doctor and a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense
Council. She says because fish is healthful food, the FDA should just tell people how much tuna
“If you weigh about 140 pounds, you can eat a can of chunk light tuna about every four days and
still be within EPA’s safe level.”
Solomon says because they’re smaller, mercury is a greater problem for kids and unborn children.
She says using the EPA guidelines, it’s clear they should consume even less tuna. Whether new
FDA guidelines make it that clear or simple is yet to be seen.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The new chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is introducing rules for reducing mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. But environmentalists and others say the rules actually rollback provisions in the Clean Air Act. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
The new chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is introducing rules for reducing
mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. But environmentalists and others say the
rules actually rollback provisions in the Clean Air Act. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Julie Grant reports:
Mercury is toxic. It can cause brain damage, especially in young children and fetuses. Forty-
percent of the mercury in air pollution comes from power plants, but it’s never been regulated as
a pollutant. The EPA had planned reductions of 90-percent by 2007. But now, the Bush
administration plans reductions of only 70-percent by 2018.
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt praises the plan as good for the environment and the economy.
Environmentalists and others say it’s a complete deception. To implement the new program, they
say the administration has downgraded mercury from the “hazardous pollutant” category. Leavitt
“We are not changing the status of mercury at all. It is a dangerous toxin and our objective is to
reduce it in the most aggressive way we possibly can.”
The new rules regulating mercury go into effect next December. For the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.
The Environmental Protection Agency wants holiday shoppers buying electronic gear to look for the Energy Star label. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency wants holiday shoppers buying electronic gear to look for
the Energy Star label. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The U.S. EPA predicts that if all home electronics sold in the U.S. this year were ENERGY
STAR qualified, the air pollution rate would be reduced by 27 billion pounds of pollutants over
the life of the products. The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program was started in 1992 as a voluntary
program. Manufacturers can get an ENERGY STAR label for their consumer electronics by
meeting certain energy efficiency goals. The EPA indicates that 75-percent of all energy used to
power home electronics is used when the products are turned off or in a stand-by mode. When
turned off, ENERGY STAR qualified equipment uses up to 50-percent less energy than
conventional equipment. The EPA says last year that six of the top seven most popular home
electronics products sold during the holidays were available in ENERGY STAR qualified
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
New light is being shed on one of your shopping choices. Some conservation biologists have been critical of coffee that its distributors tout as better for the environment because it’s shade grown. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
New light is being shed on one of your shopping choices. Some conservation biologists have been critical of coffee that its distributors tout as better for the environment because it’s shade grown. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports…
The idea is that shade grown coffee is better for the environment than coffee grown in full sunlight. That’s because rather than clearing the land for the coffee bushes, it leaves tropical rain forest trees standing. But some biologists say that’s not the same as leaving the rainforest intact. So, they say it actually accelerates the destruction of tropical forests.
Stacy Philpott is a co-author of an article in the December issue of Conservation Biology. She says with rigorous certification programs and fair trade policies, shade grown does mean conservation-friendly coffee bean farming.
“If there is a high diversity of shade trees, that helps maintain a lot of particular species of animals that live there.”
Philpott notes that shade-grown coffee certainly beats the alternative of clearing the land and planting coffee bush varieties that produce higher yields in the full sun.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Sixteen endangered whooping cranes that left the Midwest this fall have safely made it to a wildlife refuge in Florida. The birds are part of a reintroduction experiment. And this is the first time that all the cranes made the trip safely. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Sixteen endangered whooping cranes that left the Midwest this fall have
safely made it to a wildlife refuge in Florida. The birds are part of a
re-introduction experiment. And this is the first time that all the cranes
made the trip safely. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach
For three years, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has been using
ultralight aircraft to lead young whoopers from Wisconsin to Florida. A bird
died during each of the previous migrations. This year no bird had to be
euthanized , although one injured crane made the first part of the trip in a
Heather Ray is with Operation Migration, one of several groups working
together to create the only migrating flock of whooping cranes in the
eastern U.S. Ray is very happy about the latest developments.
“I mean, we’re ecstatic that every bird made the flight. You know, every bird
is priceless, as far as we’re concerned, and we’re always saddened when we
Almost all the cranes that completed the two previous years of migrations
have joined the newest group at the Florida refuge. There are now
thirty-six cranes on site. The recovery project’s goal is a flock of 125
migrating birds by the year 2020, including 25 nesting pairs.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
A type of genetically engineered corn that was pulled from the market more than three years ago is still showing up in small amounts of the nation’s corn supply. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
A type of genetically engineered corn that was pulled from the market more than
three years ago is still showing up in small amounts of the nation’s corn supply.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Starlink corn was designed to be resistant to certain pests. But concerns over
possible health effects on humans led the government to limit its use to corn
grown for feeding livestock.
But when traces of Starlink were detected in taco shells in 2000, the genetically
modified corn was pulled from the market. Today, voluntary testing is conducted
by the USDA on growers who suspect their corn might be contaminated with
Starlink. Those tests have shown that Starlink is still present in trace amounts.
Rick Johns is an associate biology professor at Northern Illinois University. He
says it’s possible Starlink will be around for many years to come.
“Farmers aren’t necessarily good at keeping everything separate. The grain bins,
for example, are not well segregated – human food versus animal food – it’s all
together in one big bin. Even if you clean the bin out there’s lots of excess seeds
left inside of it. Similarly for the trucks, similarly for the grain elevators.”
A study by the Centers for Disease Control found no conclusive evidence of
allergic reaction to Starlink corn.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
For decades, aquatic invaders have been plaguing the Great Lakes. They’ve changed the way the ecosystems work and affected the balance of life in the lakes. Most of them didn’t just wander in. They hitchhiked a ride into the Lakes in the ballast water of ships from across the Atlantic. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Carolyn Gramling reports… now the combination of these invasive species is causing changes that concern scientists:
For decades, aquatic invaders have been plaguing the Great Lakes. They’ve changed the way the
ecosystems work and affected the balance of life in the lakes. Most of them didn’t just wander in.
They’ve hitchhiked a ride into the Lakes in the ballast water of ships from across the Atlantic. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Carolyn Gramling reports…now the combination of these invasive
species is causing changes that concern scientists:
Zebra mussels were one of those species that hitched a ride in the ballast of a ship. They first
appeared in the Lakes in the mid-1980s. Zebras and their cousins the quagga mussels compete for
food needed by aquatic animals native to the lakes.
Researchers say now these mussels are part of another problem. They’re changing the food web.
The food web is made up of organisms that feed on each other. Usually it’s a chain of small, even
microscopic species that are food for ever larger species. Zebra mussels are near the bottom. For
their food, they filter large volumes of water containing contaminant-laden algae and sediment. In
the process they ingest PCBs and other toxins.
Gene Kim is a researcher in the Ohio State University’s Aquatic Ecology Laboratory. He says that
zebra mussels and a non-native fish called the round goby have helped to form a new food chain
within Lake Erie – a chain that can connect harmful chemicals buried in lake mud to humans.
“A lot of the exotic species, these alien species, have incorporated themselves into the Lake Erie
food web, and there’s a lot of ramifications, in terms of, will they change the cycling of historical
contaminants that right now are in the sediments, but they could be redirected back into sport fish
and eventually, humans.”
Zebra mussels have few natural predators in North America, and they reproduce rapidly. As a
result, they’ve been wiping out native mussels and clogging up water intake pipes in the lake. So
the arrival of the round goby, which likes to eat zebra mussels, would seem to be good news.
Instead, it has proven to be a double-edged sword.
Roy Stein is a professor in Ohio State’s Aquatic Ecology Laboratory. He says the PCBs and other
contaminants, once held captive in the sediment at the bottom of Lake Erie are taken up by zebra
mussels, and then the zebras are eaten by the round goby.
“And then, interestingly enough, round gobies are important prey for smallmouth bass that people
eat, and all of a sudden we have the opportunity for those PCBs that were stored in the sediments
to come up through the food chain and influence humans.”
So, Stein says, those contaminants that were trapped in the sediment now have a pathway up the
Gene Kim’s research is confirming the link between smallmouth bass and round gobies. He says
it’s clear round gobies like to eat zebra mussels. But it’s less clear whether bass prefer to eat gobies
over other prey fish. So, Kim devised a laboratory behavior study that let the smallmouth bass
choose between several types of prey, including gobies, emerald shiners, and crayfish.
“The interesting thing is that they actually target these emerald shiners more often than round
gobies, but emerald shiners have superior escape abilities.”
Round gobies, Kim says, just don’t swim away as fast – and so get eaten the most. He adds that
when compared with the stomach contents of Lake Erie bass, this laboratory result is borne out –
more gobies were consumed than any other prey.
Roy Stein says that this puts the system in a kind of double jeopardy.
“The combination of PCBs plus being a slow prey causes perhaps more PCBs to move up through
the food web than otherwise might be the case.”
PCBs have been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans – and they’re not the only
contaminants in the lake.
Other research indicates this new food chain might be helping other pollutants in the sediment find
their way to humans. For example, another Ohio State study finds methylmercury is also getting
into the food web through invasive species. Methylmercury in fish can cause neurological problems
for expectant mothers and other health problems.
Doug Haffner is the Canada Research Chair for Great Lakes Environmental Health and a professor
of Biological Sciences at the University of Windsor. He agrees a zebra mussel – round goby –
smallmouth bass food chain has created a route that exposes humans to harmful chemicals in lake
“For a chemical to be of concern to us, it has to be biologically available, it has to be able to enter a
human being or a fish or whatever it might be. Some chemicals may be out there but not available;
we can measure them, but they’re not really a risk to the ecosystem per se. But processes can
change, which make them available.”
Martin Berg is a professor of Aquatic Ecology at Loyola University Chicago. He says the non-
native species have had a similar impact on PCB transfer from Lake Michigan sediment.
“You can think of it almost like a conduit, like a pipe. Now we have a direct link, as you move up
the food web, to organisms that are going to be directly consumed by humans.”
And the problem spreads as the non-native species expand their range. Researcher Gene Kim says
that the implications are far-reaching.
“Not only are we just talking about a Great Lakes phenomenon – zebra mussels have already
escaped into the Mississippi drainage, and right now round gobies – we’re spending a lot of money
to prevent round gobies from entering that same drainage.”
Scientists’ concerns about toxins in the Lakes are not limited to how invasive species are changing
the food web. Researchers say that other changes caused by people can help harmful chemicals
trapped in sediments to return to the ecosystem. Ultimately, they say, each of these issues is part
of a much larger concern: the overall health of the environment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Carolyn Gramling.
This beach and its surrounding area is one of 409 contaminated sites on the EPA's National
Priorities List in the eight Great Lakes states. The sign tells people to wash their skin immediately if they come into contact with the tars and oils washing up on shore. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Ashland, Wisconsin is a small city along the coast of western Lake Superior. It was once a town that thrived on an industrial economy. Today the town is living with a legacy of pollution, and people are fighting over how to clean it up. Ashland’s mayor says he’s not giving up on the city’s future. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill has more:
Ashland, Wisconsin is a small city along the coast of western Lake Superior. It was once a town
that thrived on an industrial economy. Today the town is living with a legacy of pollution, and
people are fighting over how to clean it up. Ashland’s mayor says he’s not giving up on the city’s
future. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill has more:
Ashland, Wisconsin, sits on Chequamegon Bay. It’s a wide curve of gently sloping land on the
south shore of Lake Superior. There used to be a busy port here. Ships moved in and out, loaded
with iron ore, lumber, and coal.
But those ships are gone. Ashland’s industry is gone, and the town is trying to create an economy
based on tourism.
But the bay is polluted. The waves lapping gently on the shore carry a thin film of oily scum.
Bright yellow signs warn people not to wade in the water or run their boats in the bay. A year ago,
the EPA named this part of the bay a Superfund site.
It’s not the kind of place that’s likely to attract tourists. But that’s exactly what Ashland’s mayor
wants to do.
“This lakefront is really underdeveloped. And in a service-based economy like we’re at, we could
really be turning some money for our community here.”
Fred Schnook wants to double the size of the city marina. He wants to turn the old sewage
treatment plant into a museum.
“There could be retail shops, there could be a marine repair shop, to have all these boats that we
have here fixed.”
Ashland is within a short day’s drive of Chicago, Milwaukee, and other major Midwestern cities.
The tourism potential is huge.
But a gas plant polluted the bay years ago, and there’s no money to clean it up.
For seventy years, a company made gas to heat and light Ashland’s homes. Most cities had gas
plants like this. The raw material was coal or petroleum. By-products were tars and oils in
various thicknesses. Some of the waste was as solid as roofing tar, some was as runny as used
engine oil. The gas company sold some of the by-products to other industries. It dumped the rest
into Chequamegon Bay. The plant closed years ago.
“So we have the legacy of history.”
Jerry Winslow is an engineer with Xcel Energy, formerly called NSP. NSP bought the
manufactured gas plant in 1976. Now it’s used as a place to repair equipment.
Winslow says other industries along the bay, including a city landfill, added their own pollution
over the years.
“Manufactured gas plant being one issue. Wood treating being another issue with the same kind of
coal tar products. Landfill, which gets a little bit of everything.”
Because it owns the manufactured gas plant, Xcel will probably have to pay a big chunk of the
eventual clean-up cost. But Xcel says if the old city dump is part of the problem, Ashland itself
should bear some of the cost.
Eight years ago the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began studying the pollution
problems here. The tars and oils can cause cancer. And animal studies suggest they might cause
Xcel and the DNR worked together to cover places on land where the pollutants were bubbling to
the surface. And Xcel is slowly pumping the tars out of the deep aquifer that runs under the old
coal plant and into the bay.
The problem right now is the bay itself. The pollutants have settled on the bottom, and whenever
there’s a northeast wind, they get churned up and rise to the surface.
Since the bay is listed as a Superfund site, the EPA is in charge. The federal agency says Xcel will
have to pay for most of the cleanup. So the EPA wants Xcel to figure out how the pollution should
be cleaned up.
Ashland’s mayor, Fred Schnook, doesn’t like that idea. He says Xcel is looking for the cheapest
way to clean up the site.
“Xcel’s fighting any kind of dredging that has to take place. Some of the options include capping
and other remediation that would be a heck of a lot cheaper than dredging. And again, it’s
understandable what Xcel is doing, they have a profit motive at stake here.”
Schnook says he’s looking out for Ashland. He says Xcel doesn’t have the same motivation to
move quickly and do a thorough cleanup.
But pollution cleanups only get more expensive as time goes by. Jerry Winslow has worked on
several other manufactured gas sites. He says they weren’t so complicated to clean up, because
they weren’t sitting next to a lake.
“You don’t have to worry about the fish, the terns, the birds, the whole ecosystem, the worms, etc.
etc. Here we need to worry about that.”
Winslow says Xcel won’t have plans for a clean-up for at least two more years.
But Ashland mayor Fred Schnook says he’ll push the company to move faster. And he’ll be
keeping a close eye on its work. He says Ashland’s future depends on a clean Chequamegon Bay.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.