States are failing to stop the spread of an invasive insect that’s killing millions of ash trees. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports:
States are failing to stop the spread of an invasive insect that’s killing
millions of ash trees. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports:
People are spreading the emerald ash borer into new areas. The destructive
pest was first discovered killing ash trees in southeast Michigan four years ago.
Moving infested wood has spread the bug to Ontario, Ohio and Indiana. Now,
Illinois officials say the ash borer is infesting trees west of Chicago.
Researchers say moving infested firewood is the fastest way the beetle spreads.
Several states have banned moving firewood from quarantined areas. States
as far away as South Dakota are warning out-of-state campers to keep firewood at
Critics argue states are too lenient in enforcing the bans.
State officials say they’re struggling to keep up, as federal funding to
stop the ash borer is cut.
Researchers warn the ash borer could wipe out billions of ash trees if it’s not stopped.
Across the country, nuclear power plants are running out of room to store nuclear waste. The GLRC’s Brad Linder reports temporary storage at some plants is decades old:
Across the country, nuclear power plants are running out of room to store
nuclear waste. The GLRC’s Brad Linder reports temporary storage at some
plants is decades old:
With no consensus on a plan to store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in
one location, power plants are storing the waste onsite. For example, in
Limerick, Pennsylvania officials say they’re concerned about the plans to
build concrete casks to store nuclear waste outside a power plant. For
decades, they’ve been using storage pools inside the plant.
The proposed casks are described as temporary, but Assistant County
Planning Commissioner Mike Stokes says temporary storage at the plant
doesn’t mean much:
“They’ve been the permanent storage facility for every ounce of fuel used
at the power plant since it was first opened 20 years ago. So we can’t
always believe that things will be temporary.”
A spokesperson for Exelon Power, the owner of the Limerick plant and many others, says
the concrete casks are safe. Exelon says the casks are designed to withstand tornado-
force winds, or strikes from projectiles.
Milking Devon cattle are rare domestic breeds from an earlier day, some dating back to the 18th century. The animals hold genetic information that some people think is too valuable to lose. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum is preserving antiquated domestic breeds of farm animals, such as these Black Java chickens. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum, between Geneva and Elburn, Illinois, brings together farming experiences of the past 150 years with an appreciation of the natural environment, according to its website. (Photo by Lester Graham)
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct.
Certain breeds of common barnyard creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off. But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties of
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some
types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct. Certain breeds of common barnyard
creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off.
But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties
When you buy a pound of ground beef or a pack of chicken legs, you probably don’t
think about what kind of cow or chicken the meat came from. And in most stores,
you don’t have a choice. Beef is beef and chicken is chicken.
Of course, there’s many different kinds of cows and chickens, but most farmers stick with
just a handful of types. They prefer animals that are specially bred to produce more meat
in less time.
That’s all well and good if your motive is profit.
But some people think the move towards designer farm animals is risky.
Jerome Johnson is executive director of Garfield Farm Museum.
(Sound of turkeys gobbling)
Johnson says breeds like these Narragansett turkeys carry genetic traits that could be
desirable in the future. They don’t require as much food, for instance. That could be an
attractive feature as costs continue to rise:
“Some of the high-producing, high-yielding animals today, they may require a lot of
input. In other words, a lot of feed, more expense since so many things are derived from
petroleum, from the diesel fuel that powers the tractors to the production of fertilizer
and the like, and chemicals for herbicides and all… that as the cost of that goes up, it may
actually be cheaper to raise a different type of animal, that doesn’t require that much.”
Johnson also says some common poultry breeds get sick more easily. That’s part of the
risk farmers take when they choose meatier birds. Normally that might not be a problem,
but if Avian flu spreads to the US, some of the older breeds might carry genes that could
resist the disease. If those breeds disappear, that genetic information would be lost.
But some farmers choose rare livestock breeds for completely different reasons.
(Sound of baby chicks)
Scott Lehr and his family raise several varieties of pure-bred poultry, sheep, and goats on
their northern Illinois farm. These chicks are just a few weeks old…
(Sound of baby chicks)
“These are all pure-bred birds. These are birds that have been around a long time. Some
of the breeds that are in there, there’s Bantam Brown Leghorns, Bantam White Leghorns.”
Some of the poultry breeds are so rare and exotic they’re practically collector’s items.
Lehr’s son enters them in competitions. But the animals on their farm aren’t just for
showing off. Scott says they use the wool from their herd of Border Cheviot sheep for a
craft studio they opened in a nearby town:
“There’s quite a bit of demand growing for handspun wool and the rising interest in the
hand arts, if you will… knitting and spinning and weaving and those kinds of things… are
really beginning to come into, I guess, the consciousness of the American public in many
ways. It’s evolving beyond a cottage industry.”
And the wool of rare breeds like the Border Cheviot sheep is popular among people who want handspun wool.
(Sound of Johnson calling to giant pig, “Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?”)
Back at the Garfield Farm Museum, Jerome Johnson offers a handful of grass to a 700
pound Berkshire hog. This Berkshire is different from the variety of pig with the same
name that’s relatively common today. Johnson says these old-style Berkshires have a
different nose and more white hair than the modern Berkshire. They also tend to be fatter,
which used to be a more desirable trait.
The museum’s pair of old-style Berkshires are literally a dying breed. Johnson says the
boar isn’t fertile anymore:
“They were the last breeding pair that we knew of. These were once quite common but
now are quite rare. And we maybe have found a boar that is fertile that is up in
Wisconsin that was brought in from England here a couple years ago that we could try
crossing with our sow to see if we can preserve some of these genetics.”
(Sound of pigs)
Advocates of rare livestock breeds say the animals can be healthier and sometimes tastier
than the kinds raised on large commercial farms. And although you won’t find many
farm animals on the endangered species list, they could have important benefits for future
Grassland prairie flowers from Weldon Spring, part of the Department of Energy's restoration effort to control erosion and add aesthetic beauty to the area. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)
Birdseye view of Weldon Spring disposal cell, which contains 1.48 million cubic yards of radioactive waste. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)
Another view of the disposal cell. The cell covers a massive 45 acres in Weldon Spring. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)
Across the U.S., there are more than 100 sites contaminated by radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons programs.
The government is trying to return these Cold War relics to safe and useful purposes. Some of these once toxic zones are being treated much like public parks. The GLRC’s Kevin Lavery visited one that was recently opened to the public:
Across the US, there are more than 100 sites contaminated by radioactive waste from the
nation’s nuclear weapons programs. The government is trying to return these Cold War
relics to safe and useful purposes. Some of these once toxic zones are being treated much
like public parks. The GLRC’s Kevin Lavery recently visited one that was recently
opened to the public…
A thick grove of trees opens up to a clearing that reveals a white mound of limestone
rock. It rises like a tomb from some long-forgotten civilization, were it not for the water
towers and golf courses on the horizon.
Mike Leahy and his 9-year-old son Cameron came to this rock dome to catch the view
atop its 75 foot summit. But the real attraction was what they did not see:
“We read the sign and saw what was buried and how they did it, and – it’s kind of
disturbing, what’s in there.”
Beneath their feet lay more than a million cubic yards of spent uranium, asbestos and
PCB’s. The 45 acre mound is a disposal cell, where the government buried thousands of
barrels and tons of debris. That history didn’t bother young Cameron:
“It’s really cool. They keep all that nuclear waste under all that and it can’t harm
The Weldon Spring site, 30 miles west of St. Louis, Missouri began during World War
Two as an Army TNT factory. In the 1950’s, the plant refined yellow cake uranium for
later use in nuclear weapons. All that stopped in 1966 and all the radioactive waste just
sat there. Weldon Spring became an EPA Superfund site in 1987. After a 900 million
dollar cleanup, the site was opened to tourists in 2002.
(Sound of frogs)
Today, frogs sing in a native prairie at the foot of the cell. In April, officials opened a
hiking trail adjacent to a once-radioactive landfill. The route connects to a state park.
Weldon Spring is not a park per se, but project manager Yvonne Deyo says urban sprawl
prompted them to think like one:
“There’s subdivisions and lots of infrastructure going in…and that just kind of hits home
how important green space is, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do a little bit of
here at the site.”
Weldon Spring is one of about 100 such sites the Department of Energy is converting to
what it calls “beneficial re-use.” Many are becoming recreational venues. Another
closed uranium plant near Cincinnati is adding horseback riding trails. In Wayne, New
Jersey, a former thorium processing facility is becoming a baseball field. And a national
wildlife preserve is in the works at Rocky Flats, the site outside Denver that made the
plutonium cores of nuclear warheads.
The Department of Energy says Weldon Spring is safe for visitors – though some residual
(Sound of Burgermeister Spring)
Burgermeister Spring runs through a 7-thousand acre state reserve adjacent to the site.
This is where uranium-laced groundwater from Weldon Spring rises to the surface.
Though the spring exceeds the EPA’s drinking water quality standard, there’s no warning
sign here. Officials say the contamination is so low that it poses no immediate public
hazard. The spring feeds into one of the most popular fishing lakes on the property.
Most visitors are surprised to hear that:
Jeff Boeving fishes for bass four or five times a month:
“(Does that concern you to hear that?) Yeah – absolutely…I mean, they’ve got a great
area out here and they’re kind of messing it up if they’re going to have contaminants, you know, going into it.”
The government’s vision of post-nuclear playgrounds is not without its critics. Arjun
Makhijani heads the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park,
Maryland. He says recreational sites near urban development zones risk losing their
“Institutional memory tends to be very short; after 30, 40, 50 years people forget, they
begin to develop the land, and pretty soon you could have houses, farms and schools in
the area. So it’s not necessary that it will stay recreational forever.”
Recreation is only one option the Department of Energy is considering for all of its sites.
In the last two years, the agency’s budget has doubled with the addition of nearly a dozen
radioactive properties. Officials say Congress has so far supported its fiscal requests.
And with the future of a proposed permanent nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain still
in doubt, even more tax dollars will likely be spent converting the nuclear dumps in
America’s backyards to a place where families play.
Insurance companies are being urged to face the risks associated with climate change. The world’s oldest insurance market says recent natural disasters have shown the need for new pricing and underwriting models for insurers. The GLRC’s Erin Toner reports:
Insurance companies are being urged to face the risks associated with climate change.
The world’s oldest insurance market says recent natural disasters have shown the need
for new pricing and underwriting models for insurers. The GLRC’s Erin Toner reports.
Lloyd’s of London’s new report says the costs of climate change could put insurers out of
business if they don’t make some changes. The report says insurance companies have
been slow to manage the financial risks of emerging threats, such as rising sea levels and
the build-up of greenhouse gases. Rolf Tolle is with Lloyd’s of London.
“You will have maybe certain changes in coverage which is available. You will see
changes in pricing. And you may have for certain, very exposed risks, a situation
that insurance is flatly no longer available.”
Tolle says insurers should take climate change predictions into account when setting
rates, rather than simply relying on historical weather patterns. Last year was the costliest
year ever for the insurance industry – mainly because of hurricanes that hit the U.S.
Bird watching continues to be a popular hobby. Now a recently upgraded website can help people track where the birds are.
The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Bird watching continues to be a popular hobby. Now a recently upgraded
website can help people track where the birds are. The GLRC’s Chuck
Cornell University and the National Audubon Society have set a website
called eBird.org. The site has compiled years of observations
from amateur birdwatchers across North America. Chris Wood is Cornell’s
eBird project manager. He says the site could help people who want to
see birds while traveling.
“If you’re planning to take to a trip really anywhere in the U.S. or
Mexico, you can use eBird. There’s a tab that says view and explore
data and you can get a bar chart to show the distribution of birds that
have been seen there.”
Wood says having all the data in one place can also help scientists as
they try to learn more about bird migration patterns. He says nowadays
that could be useful in the effort to block the spread of avian flu.
New research shows that animals exposed to a chemical found in plastics are more likely to develop prostate cancer later in life. Scientists say their research is the first to find such a link.
The GLRC’s Mark Brush has more:
New research shows that animals exposed to a chemical found in plastics are more likely
to develop prostate cancer later in life. Scientists say their research is the first to find
such a link. The GLRC’s Mark Brush has more:
The chemical is known as bisphenol A. And it’s used to make the hard plastic found in
everything from microwave cookware to baby bottles to CDs – just to name a few. The
researchers say that rats exposed to this chemical in their mother’s womb are more likely
to develop prostate cancer as adults. They say the rats were exposed to low doses of the
chemical, similar to the levels found in humans.
Gail Prins headed up the study published in the journal Cancer Research.
“I want to take a lot of caution. I’m not saying that I have evidence that this is causing
human cancers, I’m just saying it’s part of the body of evidence that these type of
chemicals and exposures may be a contributing factor.”
Prins says it’s difficult for people to avoid these chemicals because they’re in products
we use everyday. But she says plastic containers tend to release more chemicals when
they are heated.
Researchers are working on a way to make ethanol that could be ten times more efficient than using corn. The GLRC’s Richard Annal reports:
Researchers are working on a way to make ethanol that could be ten times more efficient than using corn. The GLRC’s Richard Annal reports:
In the US, ethanol is usually made from corn. Researchers at the College of Environment Science and Forestry in Syracuse are working on a method that uses willow. Their process also uses water instead of harsh chemicals to extract sugars from organic matter. Using willow instead of corn has the potential to produce ten times the amount of energy. Tom Lindberg is a commissioner with the New York State Department of Agriculture.
“Were hoping that we can speed up the commercialization of this technology here in New York so that we’re kinda getting ahead of all the other states and developing this industry here and kind of laying the groundwork so hopefully this industry will grow here… we can create jobs and economic activity.”
Just like corn-based ethanol, the willow ethanol can be combined with 15 percent gasoline to make E-85. It’s an alternative fuel that burns cleaner than fossil fuels. Researchers say the process will be ready for commercial application within 2 years.
You might be seeing more mosquitoes this year. Conditions are right in many areas to see a bigger than normal crop of mosquitoes. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports:
You might be seeing more mosquitoes this year. Conditions are right in many areas to see a
bigger than normal crop of mosquitoes. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports:
The mosquito populations in a lot of places are high this year because of above normal rainfall.
Although you don’t hear as much about West Nile virus these days, it’s still a threat, especially
to those with compromised immune systems, particularly older people. Natasha Davidson is with
the Health Department in Ingham County, Michigan where there’s been a bumper crop of
mosquitoes lately. She says the best prevention is avoid getting bitten:
“Well, you want to make sure you’re wearing an insect repellant. And also when you’re outdoors
when mosquitoes are active been dusk and dawn, wear long sleeves; wear long pants; wear
socks. And apply the insect repellant to your clothing.”
So far there’s no West Nile vaccine for people. Researchers are working to come up with one.
They believe healthy people who’ve already contracted the virus and built up antibodies might be a
source for a successful vaccine in a couple of years or so.
The cost of oil is topping out near 70 dollars a barrel and the nation is sending billions of dollars to unstable foreign countries to get it.
in mind, many Americans have begun to think about biofuels from domestic crops. Biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy diesel are the most popular right now. But researchers are looking into plants that don’t require the fertilizers and pesticides those crops need. The GLRC’s Richard Annal reports on one crop that could make ethanol much more efficiently:
The cost of oil is topping out near $70 a barrel and the nation is sending billions of dollars to unstable foreign countries to get it. With that in mind many Americans have begun to think about biofuels from domestic crops. Biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy diesel are the most popular right now, but researchers are looking into plants that don’t require the fertilizers and pesticides those crops need. The GLRC’s Richard Annal reports on one crop that could make ethanol much more efficiently:
(sound of pouring liquid)
Researcher Timothy Volk is showing me some liquid that is on its way to becoming biofuel.
“So what comes out of this is a brown liquid.”
This murky brownish substance contains sugars that have been extracted from wood chips. Separating sugars from organic materials is an essential part in the production of the biofuel ethanol, and a new method being developed at the School might revolutionize that process. This lab is at the School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, part of the State University of New York system. Everybody just calls the school ESF. What makes the process at ESF different is the use of water instead of harsh chemicals as a means of extracting sugar and the use of wood from a type of willow as stock material.
The extracted sugars are then fermented and used to produce ethanol. Mix 85 percent ethanol with 15 percent gasoline and you’ve got E-85. Several models of cars can burn E-85. It burns cleaner than petroleum based products, and reduces the dependence on foreign oils.
ESF’s Timothy Volk says this method differs from others being used, creates several by- products, and leaves very little waste material.
“What’s left over still looks like a wood chip. That could go to the paper industry, and you could still make paper out of it, or you could use that wood chip to produce renewable heat and power. One of the beauties of this is that from a ton of hard wood chips from the forest or willow or where ever it comes from you’re making multiple products and there’s not a lot left.”
For stock material ESF researchers are experimenting with the use of the willow shrub tree. This plant is native and grows to over ten feet tall. The researchers say willow beats corn hands down. You have to burn fuel to plant corn every year. Corn requires fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and you only use the corn kernels rather than the whole plant to produce ethanol.
Jim Nokas is one of the lead researchers on the project. He sees the willow shrub as much more commercially viable than corn-based production.
“The best calculations we have for every unit of energy put into this process you get anywhere from 11 to 15 units of energy out. Compared to the best data available for corn, for every unit of energy put in, one would obtain 1.67 units of energy out.”
In other words, producing ethanol from willow is about ten times more efficient than using corn.
Tom Linberg is a commissioner with the New York State Department of Agriculture. Linberg says he’s excited by the prospect of wood-based ethanol production, and sees growing a low maintenance crop like willow as a way for farmers to earn extra cash.
“I think it’s something that could provide an option for a lot of farmers or land owners to use vacant land. Try and get some income off of it whereas they might otherwise not be getting income off the land. It’s a fairly low impact crop. You know, you plant it once and you don’t really need to do anything else with it, and this is something they could have on the side. Brings in some extra income and, again, helps keep that land productive.”
Willow can be harvested 6 to 7 times before replanting is necessary. It has a year long growing and harvesting season, and provides high yields. With about 2 million acres of dormant farmland in New York alone that could be dedicated to willow production, Volk believes growing willow for ethanol would have a positive effect on the local economy that buying foreign oil cannot offer.
“The real benefit here then is we build them here and it’s locally produced material, so you buy it from the land owners, or the farmers that are producing willow, the people that own wood lots. You buy all that material locally from the local community. You produce the ethanol and hopefully then we are using it locally in the community, and instead of sending energy dollars out of the state we cycle them around the local community and get lots of benefits associated with them.”
The researchers say the willow-to-ethanol process will be ready for commercial application within two years, and if it proves commercially viable the timing couldn’t be better. With ethanol plants being built across the nation, the wood method could become an efficient alternative to corn-based production in many states.