Bears and People

Getting Too Close?

  • Black bears are doing well in Northern Michigan. (Photo by Don Breneman)

Black bears are doing well across northern Michigan. People are complaining more about bears getting into bird feeders and bee hives and damaging orchards.

It’s still rare to encounter a bear in the woods. But last year a hunter was attacked near Petoskey. And state wildlife officials say bears become aggressive when people forget they are wild animals.

Bob Allen reports:

Sometimes bears just out of hibernation wander into town or into someone’s back yard to rummage for food.

Last spring, hundreds of people in Traverse City flocked to a tree with a bear in it near the airport. State wildlife officials captured the young male and moved it to a distant swamp.

But an incident from last fall near the Bear River in Emmet County continues to raise concerns.

On an October evening, three yearling bears and their mother attacked a bow hunter up a tree in his stand.

DNR wildlife chief Russ Mason says the problem likely had been brewing over the summer.

“There were reports of a sow with three cubs showing up in people’s yards and on their porches and people feeding the bears. They liked looking at them and thought they were amusing. People do things like that. They ought not to.”

In this case, the deer hunter says he kicked and hit a couple of the cubs when they climbed up his stand.

More about black bears from the DNR

A related article about the bear attack

More about black bears


DNR wildlife biologist Brian Mastenbrook looked into the incident. He says it’s not unusual for cubs to be curious and to check out a tree stand.

“And if the sow perceived a threat to the cubs then the sow would address that threat by climbing the tree or the stand to try to get to the guy. That’s a little on the aggressive side for a sow. But it’s not out of the range of normal behavior.”

But Mastenbrook can’t say for sure why those cubs would come up the tree stand in the first place instead of running away when the hunter yelled and threw his bow at them.

Art Clute thinks it was because those were the same bears that were being fed and they no longer had a normal fear of humans.
It was his 21 year old grandson who was attacked and bitten. And he has pictures of the wounds posted on the wall of his archery shop just outside Boyne City. They show a huge flap of flesh torn from his grandson’s calf and puncture wounds on his shoulder. And Clute says those same bears are still out there.

“There’s bears in them woods right now where you’ve got mushroomers and everybody else out there that could attack and kill them, instantly. Cause you see the holes that they put in that kid’s leg and shoulder to know that they’ve tasted human blood.”

After the incident last fall state wildlife biologists attempted to trap the mother bear with the intention of killing her.

But they say it was late in the season too close to hibernation and they didn’t catch her.

Art Clute says they should have called in local hunters with their dogs and shot all four bears right away.

The DNR is trying to reduce conflicts with people by allowing more bears to be taken during hunting season. The agency also is putting out the word for people to clean up bird feeders, BBQ grills and any potential food source that could attract bears.

But already this spring, the DNR says there have been reports of a group of bears in the area of last fall’s attack.

And biologists hope last year’s cubs will be grown up enough now that the sow will kick them out of her territory and they’ll scatter to other areas and won’t cause any more problems.

But wildlife chief Russ Mason notes that young animals do learn from their parents.

“So those little bears could have learned something from mom in terms of people providing food. Gosh I hope not. It’s a tragic situation for wildlife. It’s a tragic situation for people who care about bears. And it could all be avoided if people would just leave them alone.”

Agency officials acknowledge that while they discourage people from feeding bears it’s not against the law.

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Transporting Tar Sands Oil

(Part 2)

  • The Kalamazoo River on July 30, 2010, after the Enbridge pipeline broke. (Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan)

The Enbridge pipeline that broke and spilled into the Kalamazoo River last summer was carrying raw tar sands oil. In part two of our series on regulating pipelines, Julie Grant looks at the transport of tar sands oil from Alberta:

The Canadian company Enbridge says it ships both conventional crude, and tar sands oil through its pipelines. Spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says in recent years they’ve been getting an increasing amount of tar sands oil.

“Because there’s being more produced, and there’s more of a demand for it in the United States.”

This increase in tar sands oil transport worries environmentalists and pipeline safety advocates. Anthony Swift is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He co-authored a report called Tar Sands Safety Risks.

The report says raw tar sands oil has as much 20-times more acid and is more corrosive than traditional crude oil. Swift says transporting this type of oil could lead to more pipeline breaks.

Listen to the first part of this series on tar sands oil

Association of Oil Pipelines

The NRDC report on tar sands oil


He says while tar sands oil is relatively new to U.S. pipelines, its been flowing through Canadian pipelines much longer.

“We did kind of a mile by mile comparison of the Alberta pipeline system to the U.S. pipeline system. And we found that the Alberta pipeline system had 16 times as many leaks of 26 gallons or greater than the U.S. system per pipeline mile.”

Swift says the Alberta pipelines had more leaks, even though it’s a newer system.

He wants the U.S. government to study raw tar sands oil before allowing more of it to flow into the U.S.

The federal government approved two permits in recent years for the construction of new pipelines from the Alberta tar sands into the U.S. Andy Black is president of the Association of Oil Pipelines. He says tar sands oil is no different than other heavy crudes. And he says the government stamp of approval means tar sands oil can safely flow through the pipes…

“In neither of those cases have the government agencies suggested that the product was any more corrosive, and they haven’t required any conditions to accommodate this alleged increased corrosivity.”

But we couldn’t figure out how the federal government decided that raw tar sands oil is safe to send through the pipelines.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, called PHMSA, is the federal agency that monitors pipelines. PHMSA declined to be interviewed for this story. But in an email, the agency said tar sands oil is regulated the same as any other hazardous liquid, such as light crude or gasoline. They said all hazardous liquids have to meet federal standards. PHMSA sent us to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for more information. A spokesperson at FERC says they don’t regulate what flows through the pipelines. They sent us back to PHMSA.

The U.S. State Department decides whether a pipeline can cross the Canadian border into the U.S. But they declined to comment for this story.

Lorraine Grymala, the spokesperon at Enbridge, did offer some answers…

“There’s a technical standards group, maybe that’s the best way to put it, that basically are the ones that dictate what can go in the line, what’s safe to go in the line.”

Grymala says this group is called the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. It is a trade group representing the oil and gas industries. So, she’s saying that in Canada the oil and gas industries decide what’s safe to put through the lines.

The Canadian government also has oversight. In an email, a spokesperson for the Canadian National Energy Board said they need to know what’s going to flow through a pipeline before they approve its operation. But like in the U.S., Canada does not distinguish between raw tar sands oil and other heavy crudes in the pipelines.

Environmental and pipeline safety groups are urging the U.S. government to spend more time studying tar sands oil, and the effect it might be having on the nation’s aging pipeline system.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Tar Sands Oil & Michigan Pipelines (Part 1)

  • Dick Denuyl and his neighbor, Tom Philp, live along the St. Clair River. Philp is a pipeline inspector. (Photo by Suzy Vuljevic)

The pipeline break that spilled more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River last summer is still being cleaned up. It has left some Michigan residents with questions about the safety of sending heavy crude oil through those lines. In part one of our series on regulating pipelines, Julie Grant looks at concerns about inspections in Michigan:

Dick Denuyl is a retired school teacher in Marysville. When he bought his home along the St. Clair River, he loved the beautiful setting. And he wasn’t worried about the pipelines running under the water.

“I really never gave it much of a thought, until the one in California blew up, the high pressure gas line, destroyed a city block. And then the one, the Enbridge pipeline that broke and polluted the Kalamazoo river.”

The official cause of the Kalamazoo River oil spill is still under federal investigation. Enbridge officials say they also found a 12-inch dent in that same pipeline, this time in a section under the St. Clair River. Company spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says the dent did not cause any problems:

“Based on the internal inspection data, there really wasn’t, we were not concerned it was going to be an issue for the line, but it’s better to take more precaution then less, and so we did work to replace that section of the line.”

Actually, the federal government ordered Enbridge to replace that section of the pipeline. The company says the work will be complete by the end of June.

Dick Denuyl’s neighbor in Marysville is a pipeline inspector. Tom Philp does inspections for a company called Nova Chemicals. Philp says when he’s inspecting the Nova pipeline, he walks a few miles from his house along the St. Clair River to an oil refinery.

Environment Report story: Oil Lingers in Kalamazoo River

Environment Report story: Health Concerns After Oil Spill

A related article


“I do it every two weeks. I just look for any possible leakage, like through stained grass, or bubbling, or anything like that.”

Enbridge also runs a pipeline along his route:

“There is another pipeline that runs parallel with the Nova lines, and I have yet to see an inspector.”

“We have thousands of miles of right of ways, so the likelihood that you’re going to run into one person is probably not very good.”

Enbridge spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says the company does a variety of pipeline inspections. They use special tools to look inside the pipes for cracks, corrosion, and dents. They do aerial inspections. And they have crews on the ground, inspecting like Mr. Philp does.

The government does have some oversight on pipeline inspections. But here’s where things get complicated.

The Michigan Public Service Commission oversees natural gas pipelines that flow entirely within the state’s borders. But no state agency regulates oil pipelines that flow entirely in Michigan.

PHMSA, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration, is the federal agency in charge of monitoring pipelines that run across state borders. PHMSA declined an interview for this story. In an email, PHMSA says it does some of its own inspections. But it has only 110 inspectors to keep track of 2.3 million miles of pipelines nationwide. PHMSA says it inspects the companies and enforces compliance.

Susan Harley says the government is leaving the fox in charge of the hen house. Harley is policy director for Clean Water Action in Michigan. She’s concerned that the companies are largely responsible for inspecting their own pipelines:

“It really is an operator inspection program, versus the government having oversight authority. The state doesn’t even have a hand in ensuring that these pipelines are being operated safely and inspected frequently.”

Harley doesn’t expect that to change, because of the tight state budget. Meanwhile, Enbridge has announced that it will replace 75 miles of pipeline in Indiana and Michigan.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

RW: On Thursday, Julie takes a closer look at the transport of tar sands oil.

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

More Corn in Your Gas Tank? & the Most Toxic Zip Code

  • You've probably seen these specially labeled pumps for cars and trucks that can use E-85, a fuel blend that's 85% ethanol. The EPA has approved the use of E-15 for vehicles that are model year 2001 or newer. (Photo by Lester Graham)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says gas stations can
now sell gasoline blended with 15% ethanol for all cars built in 2001 or after. Right now, when you fill up in Michigan, your gasoline has 10% ethanol. But as Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports, just because the EPA approved it, doesn’t mean oil companies will make it:

The EPA says E15 gasoline will help reduce our need for foreign oil.
Ethanol is made from plants like corn. The EPA only tested the effects of E15 on emissions and catalytic converters.

But ethanol is corrosive. Patrick Kelly is with the American Petroleum Institute.

He says E15 might do some harmful things, like corrode rubber parts, or make your check engine light go on for no reason. And it could end up in the wrong gas tanks, even though the EPA will require labeling.

“I mean some people still put diesel into a gasoline car, so even a very clear label may not be adequate to stop all misfueling.”

Big oil companies like Shell and Marathon plan to wait for all the
research on E15 to come in before they start producing it.

And by the way, E15 also lowers your gas mileage by about five percent. So it could have been bad timing to introduce it when gas prices are so high.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tracy Samilton.

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This is the Environment Report.

Many people call Detroit a “post-industrial” city.

But residents in one corner of the city still live alongside a cluster of heavy industry, and they say it’s affecting their health. Now, community members in southwest Detroit want the state to do more to find out just how extensive those health impacts might be. Sarah Cwiek reports:

State House Representative Rashida Tlaib

Michigan’s most polluted zip code


Southwest Detroit is home to a number of heavy industrial sites. Some effects can be seen with the naked eye: from hazy diesel truck fumes to an eerie metallic dust residents say has rained down on their neighborhood. But others are more subtle. The neighborhood is full of children with asthma. Residents also blame the pollution for cancer and other deadly illnesses, though such a link hasn’t been definitively established.

Now, southwest Detroit residents are pushing hard for the government to launch a thorough investigation into those potential health impacts.

“When I talk to my seniors who talk about respiratory problems, and when I hear about family members who’ve passed away with cancer, I stress the importance of trying to look at these toxins collectively.”

That’s Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who represents the community in the State House. She wants the state to start conducting what are called cumulative impact studies of toxins whenever it issues new air permits in areas with lots of existing pollution.

“We don’t know what we’re breathing. We don’t know collectively what that means to our health.”

A recent University of Michigan study named one southwest Detroit zip code, 48217, as the state’s most toxic. Just HOW toxic? Researchers took air pollution data and assigned each zip code a “toxic burden score.” The statewide average was 56. Zip code 48217’s score was 2,576.

Tlaib isn’t the only lawmaker pushing the issue either. Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta chairs the Special Task Force on southwest Detroit.

“Southwest Detroit has been identified as one of the most polluted areas in the United States. So this is something we think the time has come.”

Kenyatta and others say emerging research also points to less tangible effects of air pollution—like diminished cognitive abilities in children. But as researchers work to untangle cause and effect, people in southwest Detroit say they’re already in the middle of a living experiment. And they want authorities to start paying attention.

For the Environment Report I’m Sarah Cwiek.

Solar Energy Buy-Back & Taking Wolves Off the List?

  • There are an estimated 687 wolves in the state of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Consumers Energy is expanding a very popular solar energy program in Michigan. The program allows people with solar panels on their homes or businesses to sell some of the power they generate to the power company. Lindsey Smith reports state regulators are directing the utility giant to expand the program.

Consumers Energy will double the amount of power it will pay people for.
All utility providers in Michigan are investing in more renewable energy. State law requires them to get at least ten-percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop says they’re about halfway to meeting that goal. Bishop says solar plays a role. But even with the planned expansion, the solar program will make up less than one half of one percent of Consumers’ renewable energy plan.

“Our analysis is that wind is the most economic way to meet this standard and serve our customers in the best way.”

Bishop says Consumers Energy is working on building wind farms in Michigan.


Madeleine Weil is a policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She’s been pushing state regulators to expand solar programs mainly to spur economic development. Weil says already more than 120 Michigan companies employ more than 6,000 people in the solar industry.

“It’s awfully helpful to them to have utility programs that support the industry that they’re a part of so that consumers can buy the products that they’re producing.”

Weil is also asking state regulators to direct DTE Energy to expand their solar program as well. DTE plans to file an updated renewable energy plan this month.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

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This is the Environment Report.

Right now, the federal government manages the gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But federal officials say the wolves in these states are doing great, and they want to hand management over to the states.

This isn’t the first time federal officials have tried to take wolves off the endangered species list. Wolves were delisted in 2007… but that delisting was challenged in court by some environmental groups. And wolves were put back on the list.

Some members of Congress are trying to make sure these kinds of lawsuits don’t happen again.

Candice Miller represents Michigan’s 10th district. It’s in the Thumb. She just introduced a bill that would amend the Endangered Species Act… and remove wolves from the list. Her bill would make it more difficult for anybody to sue over that decision.

“You have a number of anti-hunting groups they constantly tie these decisions up in court. I think this legislation is a huge tool to be used so the courts don’t have these things happening.”

She says her office has been approached by sportsmen and farmers worried about wolves preying on deer, moose and livestock.

Michigan’s wolf management plan does not call for a hunting season for wolves. The state legislature would have to decide that.

Essentially, Miller’s bill would take the decision to delist the wolves out of the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and critics say it would make it much harder to sue the government over wolf management.

Noah Greenwald is with the Center for Biological Diversity. His group has successfully sued in the past to keep wolves on the endangered list. He calls Miller’s bill dangerous.

“Do we want every time a species conflicts with a moneyed interest or other politically well connected interest to then be removed by Congress simply because of politics? I don’t think so. I think we want decisions about the survival of our wildlife to be made by scientists.”

Last month’s budget bill included a rider that removed federal protection from the Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves. That was the first time in history that Congress removed Endangered Species Act protection for an animal.

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

Corn on Conservation Land & School Air Pollution

  • As part of the Conservation Reserve Program, farmers are paid to put grassy strips to act as buffer zones along waterways. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Leaders in Michigan’s farm community are urging Senator Debbie Stabenow and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the rules for a land conservation program on farms. They say the current program could lead to higher food prices. Julie Grant reports:

When farmers agree to put their land into the Conservation Reserve Program, they sign a lease agreement: the government is basically renting the land to keep it out of farm production. These kinds of deals are made on land that might erode into streams or rivers. The government wants to prevent erosion and farm chemicals from running into the water. The lease agreements run from 10- to-15 years. If farmers want out before their contract is up, they have to pay.

Sam Hines is vice president of the Michigan Pork Producers Association. He says pork producers need more corn. He says the price of corn is so high right now, and there’s just not enough of it. Hines wants Senator Stabenow, who is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to consider changing the program:

“To take a look at perhaps allowing people to get out of the program on an early release without penalty, in order put some of the productive land that’s in the program in crops.”

Hines says if something isn’t done, he expects food prices to rise:

“If pork producers can’t access adequate grain stocks, they will have to cut back on their levels of production, that will make even less pork or protein available at the meat counter, and the prices will go even higher.”

Hines and many others agree about the reason corn supplies are so low: ethanol mandates. The federal government requires that a certain amount ethanol be produced every year, and that comes from corn. So pork producers and farmers now have to share the available corn with ethanol fuel producers.

Don Carr is spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group, which specializes in farm policy. He says it would be a mistake to increase corn production on land that’s currently protected under the Conservation Reserve Program.

“It’s truly one of the only lines of defense, these conservation lands that soak up agrichemicals. They mitigate runoff, they help mitigate erosion. They protect stream banks. They’re really the only last line of defense in a lot of cases between the ravages of modern industrial agriculture.”

Carr says the answer is not to pull sensitive land out of the Conservation Reserve Program in order to increase corn farming. He says instead, Congress should rollback the ethanol mandates.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

More about the Conservation Reserve Program

Michigan Pork Producers

The U-M air pollution study


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This is the Environment Report.

A new University of Michigan study finds 62% of public schools in the state are located in places with high levels of air pollution from industries.

Paul Mohai is one of the study’s authors.

“Often schools are located in more polluted parts of their respective school districts.”

He says schools need a lot of land… and land is expensive but money is tight.

“There’s probably quite an economic pressure to put schools where land values are low, and those may be near highways or industrial facilities or otherwise are polluted.”

Mohai says Michigan has no formal policy that requires school boards to consider the environmental quality of an area for a new school.

William Mayes is the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He says school boards do consider pollution when they’re siting new schools.

“You know, intelligent people are thinking about this. The bottom line is you look at where your community is expanding where your community is growing and you seek the most economical and safe property you can to build a school.”

Mayes says people are drawn to where the jobs are, and that’s often near industries, and industries pollute.

The study was published in the journal Health Affairs.

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

Scrapping the Brownfield Tax Credit?

  • John Byl chairs the Michigan chapter of the National Brownfield Association. He's pictured on the roof of The Gallery, a former contaminated site in downtown Grand Rapids that was redeveloped into apartments and an art gallery. (Photo by Lindsey Smith)

Brownfields are often old industrial sites. They can be polluted with heavy metals or chemicals. That pollution can make these sites much more expensive to build on – because you have to clean up the pollution first.

Right now, developers can get as much as a 20% tax credit from the state of Michigan when they build on a brownfield site. That means they can apply that credit to the taxes they owe the state.

John Byl chairs the Michigan chapter of the National Brownfield Association. He’s standing on the roof of a building in Grand Rapids called The Gallery. It’s the new home of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

“The site we’re on right now was a contaminated site here in downtown Grand Rapids. So for example, this project received a 20% credit so if the construction was $30 million dollars it received $6 million credit.”

John Byl says the tax credits are popular. And he says without them… a lot of contaminated sites around the state might not be cleaned up.

“It costs more to build in tight spaces, it costs more to deal with contamination, it costs more to renovate existing buildings. If you don’t have that tool, projects like that won’t happen or they’ll be built somewhere out in the green field space.”

So it’s cheaper and easier for a developer to build out in the country.

Governor Rick Snyder wants to get rid of the brownfield tax credit. Last week, the state House approved a bill that eliminates the credit. The Senate is voting on that bill this week.

Rick Pluta is the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He’s been following the state Legislature’s decisions on the brownfield tax credit and he joins me now to talk about this.


So, what kinds of arguments are you hearing from lawmakers for eliminating the brownfield tax credit?

RP: Well, I would start with the Governor’s argument and he says simply that they are unsustainable, that they cost the state too much:

(clip from Governor Snyder):
“If you have states continuing to do the incentive model and playing that game, at some point people should be asking the question, are they going to have to change their tax system, raise their tax rates, to pay for these things? And if you’re a business in that state, that could come out of your hide later.”

RP: The Governor says as a matter of fact that the state over the next couple of years is already obligated to forgo two billion dollars in revenue because of these credits.

RW: Okay, so the Governor is saying that we just can’t afford the brownfield tax credit anymore?

RP: That these are unsustainable. Now, he’s not saying the incentive will go away entirely. He wants the Legislature to create a fund, to appropriate money. It’ll be controlled by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and it will give, basically, cash up front. Grants to developers that promise to redevelop old factories and historic buildings and such. But it’s got to be done up front and if you want to do more of it, then you’ve got to find somewhere in the budget to pay for it.

RW: Okay, so there are some concerns about that kind of model, that it could get muddied by politics.

RP: You know, the advocates for these credits say, well, now it’s going to be a system of ‘who do you know?’ Who do you know at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in order to become first in line to get the limited amount of funding available for this, and maybe, who do you know in the legislature who can apply some political pressure to the MEDC to get you what you want.”

RW: Well, Rick, thank you so much!

RP: My pleasure, Rebecca.

Rick Pluta is the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. The Senate will be deciding the fate of the brownfield tax credit this week.

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

Special thanks to Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith for her help with this story.

Aircraft Chemical Found in Great Lakes Fish

  • Researchers from Environment Canada discovered a chemical used in aircraft fluids in walleye and lake trout. (Photo courtesy of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division)

New research finds that fish in the Great Lakes are contaminated with a chemical used in aircraft hydraulic fluids. Julie Grant reports:

Researcher Amila DeSilva works for Environment Canada, which is like the EPA in the U.S.

She says there have been studies on a number of perflourinated chemicals. They’re used to make textiles, upholstery, paper, and many other things. Studies have shown these types of chemicals can have toxic effects in humans. But not much is known about a chemical she calls PFECHS. I’ll let her pronounce the full name:

DeSilva: “Perfluoroethylcyclohexanesulfonate.”

DeSilva says no one has really studied whether its toxic. She wanted to see if PFECHS was in the environment, so she and her colleagues sampled water and fish in the Great Lakes, specifically lake trout and walleye:

“We were really, really surprised to find it in fish. Because, just based on the structure and our chemical intuition we thought, ‘okay, it would be more likely to be in water than in fish’ so when we found it in fish, when you find anything in fish, it’s a whole other ballgame because humans consume fish.”

DeSilva says other perflourinated acids are endocrine disruptors. That means they create hormone imbalances in humans, and they have other toxic effects. She says once these chemicals are released into the environment they don’t degrade, they just build up. That’s why use of some chemicals in this class is highly restricted in the U.S. and Canada.

Read an abstract of the Great Lakes fish study

A five-part Environment Report series on flame retardants


“PFECHS on the other hand is still approved for use, and mainly because its specialized use in aircraft hydraulic fluid, was believed to not really lead to environmental contamination, it was thought to be contained.”

DeSilva says the company 3M was the largest producer of PFECHS, until it stopped making the chemical 2002. She says Environment Canada believes it is still being made elsewhere, and is still in use on military bases.

DeSilva says her team’s research shows PFECHS contamination may be as widespread as the other perflourinated chemicals. She says the next step is to see whether PFECHS moves up the food chain – to find whether it builds up in people who eat contaminated fish.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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This is the Environment Report.

Flame retardant chemicals help keep foam and plastics from catching on fire. They’re called PBDEs. That stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers. They’re in our couches, our office chairs and the padding under our carpet. The problem is… they don’t stay put. Scientists have known for a while that the chemicals leach out of products and get into our bodies. Americans have the highest levels of anyone in the world.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies are suggesting links to problems with brain development, changes to thyroid systems, and fertility problems.

The chemicals are also widespread in the animal kingdom.

A new study in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry looks at how these chemicals might be affecting frogs.

Bill Karasov is one of the authors of the study. He’s been looking at how PBDEs affect the development of northern leopard frogs. His team fed the frogs a diet tainted with PBDEs at levels they would encounter in the wild.

“Even at all concentrations of PBDES down to our very lowest, the growth rate and rate of development of the tadpoles was slowed down. And we also found at the end of the study that the chemical had accumulated in their tissues.”

Karasov says they also saw increased mortality in the tadpoles.

He’s going on to study whether flame retardant chemicals affect frogs’ immune systems.

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

Money for Great Lakes Cleanup & Composting Corn Forks

  • A driver opens up one of the 20-foot high compost piles at Tuthill Farms. He'll add the new compostable waste to the hot core of the pile, then cover it back up. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

The federal budget left many groups wanting more money, but those lobbying to restore Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are actually pretty pleased with the President and Congress. Julie Grant has more:

Andy Buchsbaum co-chairs a group that’s trying to get enough funding over five years to restore the Great Lakes. He says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative didn’t get all the money it wanted in the 2011 federal budget. But Buchsbaum says given the tight economic times, the $300 million they did get will keep the program on track.

“The Great Lakes did remarkably well this year in the federal budget, and the people in this region will benefit from it.”

In Michigan, Buchsbaum says the money is being used to restore wetlands. It’s also being used to get rid of toxic hot spots, such as the so-called black lagoon in the Detroit River area. And it’s being used to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.

Buchsbaum says both parties supported Great Lakes restoration because of the economic benefits, and everyone wants their children to be able to swim at the beaches and drink the water.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

This is the Environment Report.

Have you ever seen those plastic forks or spoons made from corn or potatoes? It’s a big trend right now.

They’re compostable. So in theory… this tableware breaks down into a dark, rich material that’s really good for gardening.

So you get the convenience of disposable plastic… without adding to the big pile of plastic trash.

But here’s where things get tricky.

Great Lakes restoration projects

More about Tuthill Farms

Sustainable Packaging Coalition

A feasibility study looking at expanding composting at the University


Liz Shoch is with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. She’s working with companies to rethink the way they package their products.

“One of the things we say a lot currently is there is no sustainable package and that goes for compostable packaging too. There’s always tradeoffs.”

She says compostable packaging can be a good way to divert waste from the landfill. But it won’t break down in your backyard compost pile for a long time. So you have to find a special place that’ll take it.

And she says don’t think about putting compostable tableware in your recycling bin. Even the smallest bit of compostable packaging can mess up a whole batch of recyclable plastic and make it unusable.

So you might think – why not just throw it away?

“What happens in the landfill is most of what goes in there does not break down. However, some organic matter does break down, the problem with that is it’s usually breaking down without oxygen present, it creates carbon dioxide and methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.”

So what do you do with it? There are not a lot of places that take compostable packaging yet… but one Michigan farm does.

Tuthill Farms is in South Lyon. Sandra Tuthill and her husband Jim have 30,000 cubic yards of compost.

The farm had just gotten a truckload of coffee cups, utensils and bags… all made from corn.

(sound of front loader)

A guy driving a front loader cracks open a compost pile and steam rises out. He mixes the plates, cups and plastic bags into it. Sandra Tuthill says it’s about 165 degrees in there.

“Which is roughly the same temperature as a crock pot. Which is kinda interesting, so if you think about it, we have big crock pots out here, simmering all this stuff down.”

The Tuthills mix and turn the compost piles through the winter. Then in the spring, they sell the compost.

Sandra Tuthill says they’d love to take more compostable packaging – but they can’t take it from just anybody. That’s because they have to make sure there’s no trash along with the compostable material.

“The contamination is the biggest issue. We just can’t handle any trash. We want just the food waste or the compostable tableware.”

So you have to work pretty hard to find a good resting place for your potato fork.

Some experts say there’s not a lot of benefit to buying compostable tableware if it ends up in the landfill. They’re hoping to see more businesses take advantage of what these utensils are designed for: turning them into usable compost.

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