Trichloroethaneor TCA, is a solvent that contaminates groundwater and erodes the ozone layer. It is present at many polluted sites across the country. TCA comes from many common products such as glue, paint and industrial degreasers. Now scientists say they’ve found a microbe that can help clean it up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
Trichloroethane or TCA is a solvent that contaminates groundwater
and erodes the ozone layer. It is present at many polluted sites across
the country. TCA comes from many common products such as glue,
degreasers, and aerosol sprays. Now scientists say they’ve found a
that can help clean it up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar
One way polluted water can be cleaned is to add bacteria that breaks
down the harmful substances. It is a process called bioremediation. In a
recent issue of “Science,” researchers at Michigan State University say
they’ve identified a microbe that could do this with TCA. Benjamin
Griffin is a doctoral student who worked on the project. He says they
found the bacteria in sediment in the Hudson River.
“They actually breathe TCA, so they respire it. They’re using this
chlorinated compound in the same way we use oxygen.”
The bacteria breaks down the TCA into other compounds. Those chemical
compounds can then be further broken down by other pollution-eating or
breathing bacteria. Up until now, scientists though there might not be
way to biodegrade TCA. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar
The Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the EPA didn’t fund clean up for seven toxic waste sites this fiscal year. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie Macdowell reports, two of the seven sites are here in the Midwest:
The Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the EPA didn’t fund clean-up for seven toxic waste sites this fiscal year. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie MacDowell reports, two of the seven sites are here in the Midwest:
A tax on chemical and oil companies expired in 1995.
The tax was used to fund clean ups at some of the country’s most polluted sites.
Now most of the funding comes from tax payers.
Clean-up on two Midwest sites was pushed back – the Jennison Wright Corporation in Illinois and Continental Steel in Indiana.
Hazardous chemicals are seeping into the ground water at these two sites.
Bill Muno, the Regional Superfund Director at the EPA, says to clean up more sites each year, Congress would have to increase Superfund appropriations.
“There isn’t enough money in that annual appropriation to cover all the work that needs to be done each year.”
Muno says the EPA Inspector General’s report shows there were more sites in line for funding that were delayed under the Bush Administration.
But he adds that tests show the sites are not an immediate threat to public health.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Annie MacDowell.
An environmental group is taking issue with a Bush Administration proposal to change the Clean Water Act. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
An environmental group is taking issue with a Bush Administration proposal to change
the Clean Water Act. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
The Bush Administration is considering removing non-navigable rivers,
adjacent wetlands, and headwaters from the protections of the Clean Water Act. Ed
Hopkins is a senior lobbyist for the Sierra Club. He says that change would create major
problems for the waters still covered by the act:
“If you allow the headwaters rivers to be polluted or to be filled in for development of
one kind or another it is certainly going to have an effect on the downstream areas.
Those downstream rivers are going
to get dirtier.”
Hopkins says the Clean Water Act will become nearly useless if this change goes though.
The Bush Administration has announced its intent to seek the change, but has not
formalized the proposal or started the process to change the Clean Water Act.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.
A recent report looked at the potential health effects of climate change on people in the Niagara region. The report predicts increased exposure to malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever in coming years. The report was released by the environmental group Pollution Probe, and was done in partnership with the health and environment departments of the Canadian government. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
A recent report says people in the Niagara region expect increased exposure to malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever in coming years because of climate change. The warning is contained in a new report by the environmental group, Pollution Probe. The report was done in partnership with the health and environment departments of the Canadian government. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports from Toronto:
The report says the diseases are projected to spread because climate change favors the northward movement of disease carrying birds, insects and rodents. Quentin Chiotti of Pollution Probe says the sudden spread of the West Nile Virus is an example of what to expect.
“Now though, there’s some uncertainty about predicting just when that will happen, without a
doubt the conditions are going to be ripe for these kinds of disease outbreaks.”
Chiotti says there are already twenty confirmed cases of the West Nile Virus in Canada, compared
to none last year. And more than three thousand in the U.S.
Chiotti also says the number of excessive heat days could double to thirty each summer by the
year 2030. He says that could lead to more deaths – as many as four hundred people each
summer in the region.
Pollution Probe says the predictions show the need to tackle greenhouse gas emissions as soon as
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk in Toronto.
This bread was dumped at a park along a Great Lakes beach for the gulls, geese, and squirrels that live there. Beach visitors often assume high bacteria levels that close beaches to swimmers are solely due to sewer overflows, but animals that defecate in the area also contribute to the problem.
This past summer beaches around the Great Lakes were closed in record numbers because of high bacteria counts. One government study indicates part of the problem might be animal feces, but the public does not seem to be aware that of the connection. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
This past summer beaches around the Great Lakes were closed in record numbers
because of high bacteria counts. One government study indicates part of the problem
might be animal feces, but the public does not seem to be aware that of the connection.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
High levels of bacteria in the water can make swimmers sick. Cameron Davis is with the
watchdog group, the Lake Michigan Federation. He says more can be done to stop the
contamination if sewer plants are improved and if beach visitors were more aware that
leaving food waste and feeding gulls and geese adds to the problem. That’s because the
birds defecate more, causing higher levels of bacteria along the shore.
“So, we’ve got the sewage treatment agencies saying ‘Oh, no. It’s the geese and the
gulls,’ and we’ve got the people feeding the birds saying ‘Oh, no. It’s sewage treatment
plants.’ So, you can see, it’s a combination of sources and there are things — I don’t care
what anybody says — there are things we can do to help solve the problem with all those
Davis says local governments need to start identifying and eliminating those sources of
beach contamination, starting with improving sewer plants and getting people to clean up
after their visits and to stop feeding wildlife at the beaches.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Another link in higher-speed rail in the Great Lakes region is in place. Railroad officials have begun testing passenger trains at speeds never before attempted. It’s part of an effort to establish Chicago as a hub for cities from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Willis Kern reports:
Another link in higher-speed rail in the Great Lakes region is in place. Railroad officials
have begun testing passenger trains at speeds never before attempted. It’s part of an effort
to establish Chicago as a hub for cities from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Willis Kern reports:
(nat sound train going through station)
A four-car Amtrak passenger train is rolling through the depot in downtown Normal,
(sound of train continues)
Usually, passenger trains stop to pick up passengers. But this one is chugging through,
picking up nothing but speed as it heads north toward Chicago, and eventually, a new land
speed record for passenger trains in Illinois. Never before has a train eclipsed the 110-
mile per hour mark, but that’s what this one is about to do during a five-mile stretch, as
another step toward implementing high speed rail in the Midwest.
Before the train backs up from the Amtrak station in Normal and races forward, it sits
idling while engineers from the state bureau of railroads, Amtrak and Lockheed Martin test
new technology the train will use called Positive Train Control, which is a key component
of making the trains go faster. As it sits at the train station, Steve Gossard, the station’s
lead ticket agent, notes that the twin engines on this train look different than the ones
Amtrak usually push up and down the Chicago to St. Louis corridor.
“Well I guess its a little more streamlined, a more angular kind of thing, and its really
very plain. I guess the aerodynamics has something to do with the style.”
The ‘Bureau of Railroads’ is using two Amtrak engines that have been configured to
operate on what’s known as Class 6 tracks, or those that have been upgraded to support
speeds of 110 miles an hour.
“It’s a very sophisticated piece of equipment.”
Bureau chief John Schwalbach says the testing helps determine the difference between
traditional Class 4 tracks that have been upgraded and the new rails to be used for higher
“Particularly the track guage. That is to say the distance between each of the rails.
That’s a key component and at Class 6, there are certain standards that are tighter
than a class four track. And you’re talking about measuring in the millimeter range
here, or even smaller than that.”
Which makes for a smooth ride for the faster trains. Schwalbach says the engines being
tested today are quite different than the one the state has been testing at the more
conventional speed of 79 miles per hour over the past few months, but it will be a couple
of years, at least, before new high speed diesel train sets are ordered. They will efficiently
get passengers up to speeds of 110 miles an hour. A year ago, state rail officials were
pointing to a December ’02 launch of high speed passenger service. Now, Schwalbach
says that’s not likely to happen until sometime in 2004, mainly because of federal red tape.
“From a regulatory perspective, after Lockheed Martin delivers their finished
product, it of course has to meet or exceed regulatory requirements put upon them by
the Federal Railroad Administration. We expect that process will take us through the
“That may be accurate but it sounds like an awfully slow pace. I guess it assumes
little or no federal support.”
Ross Capon is the Executive Director of the National Association of Rail Passengers. He
talked to us on a cell phone as he rode an Amtrak passenger train from California to
Maryland. Capon says he’s disappointed in the Bush Administration’s attitude toward high-
speed rail. But, he’s confident things on the federal level will improve and states starving
for funding not only for high speed rail, but basic Amtrak service, will get much needed
“The general public is way ahead of the politicians on this issue. That 9-11 has only
reinforced that, and that sooner or later, the administration is going to figure that out
and respond to it.”
(sound of trains)
Meanwhile, the Great Lakes states wait for the federal government to sort out Amtrak and
high speed rail service and it’s commitment to each. Michigan has been testing a stretch of
track between Detroit and Chicago for sometime. Now it’s Illinois’ turn to showcase the
baby steps they’re making in an attempt to get some kind of service up and running as soon
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Willis Kern.
Researcher Lee Harper bands a common tern. Photo by David Sommerstein.
Biologists like to find these common tern eggs – a sign the bird's population is recovering in the region. Photo by David Sommerstein.
The common tern is a bird best known for its graceful flight and dramatic dives. Over the past 50 years, its best nesting habitat in the Great Lakes has been taken over by more aggressive birds, like gulls, cormorants, and osprey. Today, common terns are a threatened species in New York and Minnesota, and monitored carefully in other states. A couple years ago, a biologist and some volunteers used gravel and navigational buoys on the St. Lawrence River to create artificial nesting habitats for the terns. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports on the experiment’s progress:
The Common Tern is a bird best known for its graceful flight and dramatic dives. Over the
past 50 years, its best nesting habitat in the Great Lakes has been taken over by more
aggressive birds, like gulls, cormorants, and osprey. Today, common terns are a
threatened species in New York and Minnesota, and monitored carefully in other states. A
couple years ago, a biologist and some volunteers used gravel and navigational buoys on
the St. Lawrence River to create artificial nesting habitats for the terns. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports on the experiment’s progress:
The St. Lawrence isn’t just a river – it’s a seaway – an aquatic interstate for ocean freighters rumbling into the Great Lakes. So it’s not strange.
I’m in a boat floating just upstream from one of the river’s highway signs, a seaway
We’re not talking about a plastic buoy – it’s a fixed concrete column rising 8 feet above the
water. Its platform is big enough that you can walk around on it. On top, a tall steel tower holds a red light and signs that serve as channel markers for the seaway traffic. But for the conservationists I’m tagging along with, this is bird habitat. We sit in silence and listen to the call of the Common Tern.
(tern squawking in the clear)
Dozens of small white birds with pointy wings and black caps swoop above our heads.
They soar, suspended, then suddenly dive into the water. Their orange beaks snap at
minnows just below the surface, then they shoot back up into the air.
This particular colony was formerly the largest and most productive Common Tern
colony on the entire lower Great Lakes.
Biologist Lee Harper is known as “the tern guy” in this part of the Great Lakes. He’s
tagged thousands of them and recorded them as far away as Brazil. He documented the
common tern’s dramatic decline over the past twenty years. Gull and osprey populations
exploded, displacing the more sensitive terns from their nesting sites. But today Harper
peers through binoculars and grins.
“The terns we’re seeing here today represent the first nests on this site in almost ten
Terns don’t need much to nest, just a dry, isolated spot near water. Harper noticed the
refugee terns were retreating to navigation markers like this one. They’d lay eggs on its
concrete platform. The problem was the eggs would roll around and the birds would abandon
them. So Harper enlisted volunteers to lug 5 tons of gravel out here. They spread it on the
platform so the terns would lay their eggs on top of the gravel and the eggs wouldn’t roll.
Suzie Wood was among them.
“The first time I saw it, it was a piece of concrete and I frankly thought that Lee was a
little bit cracked when I heard about it.”
That was two summers ago. Today’s the first day the volunteers have returned. They’re
going to count nests and eggs to see how the gravel is working.
(motor sound, then clanking and action sound as we tie up)
We inch the boat up to the marker and huddle under the canvas top in case the birds dive-
bomb our approach. Then we tie up to an iron ladder that leads up to the concrete
platform. One by one, we climb the ladder and peer over the platform’s rim.
“Wow, this is a beautiful nest right here.”
Lee Harper is right behind and he’s beaming.
“After ten years of no terns here, this is really a wonderful sound!”
Almost invisible amongst the gravel and weeds are clusters of brown spotted eggs. We
walk on tip toe, look before every step, careful not to crush a nest. Harper works quickly
to minimize the disturbance. He calls out the number of eggs he sees. A volunteer takes
notes on a clipboard.
Harper was here two weeks ago and counted 18 nests. Today there are 40 common tern
nests. Volunteer David Duff is impressed.
“It was just such a simple thing to do. I mean, a hundred twenty dollars worth of gravel
and a two or three hours and half a dozen people helping with five gallon buckets of gravel
and I think we have a victory, at least a preliminary victory.”
The gravel nests are starting to catch on. The St. Lawrence Seaway Development
Corporation is spreading gravel on navigation markers all along the Seaway. Groups in
Michigan are planning similar restoration efforts, using dredging spoils from the St. Mary’s
River. They’re man-made solutions, but ones that just might restore the Common Tern
population to health in the Great Lakes.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.