Environment in the news

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Texas hospital tries to stop birds living in nearby trees, accidentally creates haven for North America's most venomous caterpillar

Texas hospital's attempts to deter birds have accidentally created a haven for North American's most venomous caterpillar species, whose painful sting has been compared to breaking a bone. Nets were put up on the oak trees that line the sidewalks of Texas Medical Center in Houston to stop birds like grackles and pigeons—which can carry diseases and create a mess—from gathering. But by putting the birds off from landing on the trees, the institution created a new problem. With no birds to eat them, the population of bugs commonly known as "asps" exploded. After studying the area for three years, researchers found the caterpillars were 7,300 percent more abundant on netted trees compared to those without protection. Also known as Megalopyge opercularis or puss moth caterpillars, the insects are the most poisonous caterpillars in North America. The creatures are covered in spines linked to a sac filled with poison. If someone brushes against an asp, the protrusions break off and stick into the skin, releasing venom. After around five minutes, the victim will experience an intense throbbing pain, which then spreads. Stings can be accompanied by headaches, vomiting and nausea, as well as stomach pains. Glen Hood, who led the study at Rice University and is a research assistant professor of biological sciences at Wayne State University, said in a statement: "There are a lot of people that congregate in the green spaces of TMC [Texas Medical Center]. It becomes this scenario of what's worse—bird guano or venomous asps—and is there a happy medium?" Hood commented: "It's highly suggestive that when you don't take into account the natural interactions taking place within a community or ecosystem, even in an urban setting, it can cause unforeseen consequences."
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How to make sure your water filter really removes lead

A problem with high levels of lead in Newark’s drinking water led the city last year to distribute water filters to residents. But that plan hit a snag this week when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alerted the city that drinking water in two of three homes it tested still had high levels of lead, despite the filters. The EPA advised Newark residents to stop drinking tap water and urged the city to supply bottled water instead (though that solution also ran into problems when the city learned some of the water had passed its expiration date). Filters certified to remove lead must undergo rigorous testing by NSF or other labs. The Water Quality Association, for instance, tests the filters with water contaminated at 150 parts per billion—10 times higher than the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb. Researchers in Flint even pushed filters to the extreme, testing with water contaminated to 1,000 ppb, and found they still removed all lead from the water. The filters distributed in Newark were activated carbon filters certified to remove lead. But not all filters can do that. “Activated carbon has a lot of surface area with nooks and crannies where chemicals can stick,” says Shawn McElmurry, a Wayne State University professor who did extensive field research during the Flint water crisis. “But it’s not infinite.” To add to the chaos, McElmurry says there could be other contaminants in the water competing for those attachment sites. And if some of those contaminants have more mass or energy, they could knock some lead loose—like throwing softballs at your Velcro wall of tennis balls. Faucet-mount filters, like those used in Flint and Newark, typically cost $20 to $40 and require several installation steps that can go awry. “These filters are not easy to get onto the faucets,” McElmurry says. “We found that a lot of people in Flint with arthritis or poor motor function in their hands couldn’t attach them.” 
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Understanding the ‘why’ of higher water levels in the Great Lakes

Climate scientists may not be shouting from the housetops when it comes to the effect of global warming on water levels in the Great Lakes, but they’re also not saying that everything will be fine. Reaction to a recent study produced by Canada’s federal environmental agency asserts that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and that the country’s northern regions are warming three times as fast. The impact on Michigan has much to do with water levels, which are impacted by many factors, including precipitation, the rate of evaporation and water temperatures. Shirley Papuga, associate professor in the geology and environmental science program at Wayne State, referred to the work done by one of her undergraduate students, Alex Eklund, who has plotted out data on 20-year average temperatures. “For 2019, for instance, compared to the 20-year average minimum temperatures, those were lower in the winter,” said Papuga. “But the minimum temperatures are actually higher now in the spring and summer, which suggests a seasonality is in play.”
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Wayne State preps water study participants

An independent study by Wayne State University into Adrian’s water got underway Tuesday night as representatives prepped participants on what to expect. The meeting with Adrian residents was closed to the media but Wayne State student Andrew James briefed media ahead of the meeting on his study. James will test water samples throughout Adrian for the presence of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and certain toxins affiliated with the bacteria, specifically microsystin and anatoxin. James said the study was suggested by Thomas Prychitko, due to the previous findings. The Wayne State professor will help supervise James through the project. “The gist of it is, yes, we are testing to see if there is any harmful bacteria in the water of these fine people in Adrian, Michigan,” James said. The study is for James’ master’s degree and thesis, he said. The study is not in conjunction with any other agency, nor is it affiliated with the city of Adrian and its water study being conducted by Tetra Tech. Wayne State is funding the project. “This is a significant investment by Wayne State,” Taylor said as each water sample can cost up to $225. James said the purpose is to identify if there is cyanobacteria in the water and where in Adrian it might be. The university put a call out in April for participants.
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Toilet paps, cotton swabs, tampons, and baby wipes hurt the environment: Here’s how to do better

Toilet paper, tampons, cotton swabs, and baby wipes are all personal care staples that, perhaps surprisingly, come with hefty environmental costs. From upstream problems, like logging crucial boreal forests for wood pulp that becomes toilet paper, to post-use issues like the centuries it can take a tampon to biodegrade, many of these single-use products come with serious environmental costs. There are smarter, more ecologically sound choices to make for almost every item, and some may even be upgrades. Here’s how to choose personal products wisely. Cotton swabs have a disposal issue. They are often flushed down the toilet after use and end up in waterways, in the bellies of birds and other aquatic creatures, and even in the tails of seahorses. This one is easy—follow the advice of doctors and stop using cotton swabs altogether. Dr. Peter Svider, an otolaryngology resident at Wayne State University in Michigan, told Time magazine that cotton swab injuries were responsible for a large portion of adult emergency-room visits for ear trauma in the US. And they’re not even that good at cleaning ears. “The way the cotton swab is designed—it’s really not a good tool for removing wax,” he said. “You tend to push more in than you pull out.”   
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Activists host faith, WSU leaders for ‘World Water Day’ in Detroit

Dozens of grassroots organizations on Friday are hosting interfaith leaders in Detroit to speak about water shutoffs, concerns over environmental contamination and other water-related issues across the state. Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders plan to speak at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History about water access and affordability, privatization, environmental contamination and Line 5 — an Enbridge oil pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Wayne State University also has agreed to offer a 90-minute workshop at the event, with professors and graduate students educating attendees on how to “advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources,” according to the university.
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$1M grant to fight Great Lakes growing microplastic problem

Could the solution to microplastic pollution come from Wayne State University? Principal researcher Yongli Zhang, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, certainly hopes so. With the help of a recently awarded grant totaling $929,000 from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, Zhang will lead a team of engineers and biologists in mitigating the micro-contaminants from entering the water. "The issue of plastic pollution, and more specifically microplastic pollution, is beginning to get more attention," said Zhang in a press release. "However, this is still a relatively new issue for more people, and a great deal of research and outreach is still needed to make positive changes to public awareness and engagement.”
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Rolling the dice with Enbridge, Line 5 and the Great Lakes

It's hard to look at a deal announced this week between the State of Michigan and Canadian oil giant Enbridge and not feel like Gov. Rick Snyder is really rolling the dice: Gambling that aging, damaged Line 5, an oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac, won't have a significant breach or rupture in the 7 to 10 years. "This is a state and a department of environmental quality that have an absolutely horrendous record of everything from technical judgement to oversight, to, frankly, fundamentally protecting people’s water and people themselves. It’s like a bad deal between the two worst actors," says Noah Hall, a professor at Wayne State University Law School and founder of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.
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How long can Great Lakes fend off thirsty world from water diversions?

Noah Hall, an environmental lawyer from Wayne State University, said the changes wrought by climate alterations could require amendments to water compacts. “The Great Lakes Compact states made a rare move to address a problem before it became a problem," Hall said. "While some of these reforms can happen at the state level," Hall wrote, "or through operational changes in compact administration, more fundamental changes will require revision of existing compacts." Such changes will not come easy, he added, and “will require leadership and political will." 
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Cape Town water crisis and what shortages could mean for the Great Lakes

What is going to happen when people all over the world start running out of fresh water? How are we going to deal with that kind of global crisis? And what would it mean for us here in the Great Lakes region, where we have 20 percent of the world’s available surface supply right outside our door? Noah Hall, Wayne State University professor of law, specializing in environmental and water law, and founder of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, talked about what these global water shortages could mean for the Great Lakes.
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Opinion: Three 2018 resolutions for a more prosperous metro Detroit

Last year brought news of upheavals in the world, around the country and in our backyard. News of hurricanes and the California fires made me more grateful than ever to claim southeastern Michigan as home. It also makes me concerned that not everyone in southeast Michigan benefits from our region's riches. Worse, I fear that we are being reckless with our treasures. Thus, I offer this resolution for southeastern Michigan: Let's think like a region in 2018.    
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House panel funds Great Lakes cleanup, Asian carp

Washington — House appropriators late Tuesday approved a bill that rejects a Trump administration proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and gives the Fish and Wildlife Service an extra $10.4 million to fight invasive Asian carp. Administrators at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University had opposed cutting reimbursements for facilities and administrative costs as part of the grants they receive from the National Institutes of Health. The universities said the proposed cap would force them to reduce or eliminate the NIH research they conduct.
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Lead not likely the cause of increased cases of legionnaires’ disease in Flint but…

Researchers from Wayne State University are working to identify why the number of people with Legionnaires’ Disease spiked during the Flint water crisis. The study, in its second year, is expanding to include an examination of the disease in Wayne County. Legionnaires Disease is a form of pneumonia that often hits people over the age of 50 and those with underlying immune system problems. Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Director of Research at Wayne State University, Paul Kilgore, and Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at Wayne State,  Shawn McElmurry, spoke with WDET’s Amy Miller. McElmurry says Legionella bacteria is readily found in the environment.
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Eco-friendly ‘green’ district launched in Detroit

Wednesday marked the official launch of a “green” building district in Detroit that aims to significantly curb energy use, water consumption and transportation greenhouse gas emissions.  Another member is Wayne State University, which has been exploring a greenhouse gas inventory as well as other efforts aimed at assessing the campus’ impact, said Daryl Pierson, its sustainability coordinator. “It’s important for us to be a good neighbor and have a good presence — to be a good environmental steward of the area we’re in,” Pierson said.
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Michigan’s new water battle: How much of it should Nestle bottle?

Like many well-watered states, Michigan allows a reasonable use of water by landowners and imposes no royalties for its resale. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must sign off on large withdrawals to make sure stream flows and fish populations aren’t adversely affected. The cost to Nestle? A $5,000 application fee, plus an annual $200 water-use reporting fee. “That’s the real head-scratcher for folks,” says Nick Schroeck, who directs the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center at Wayne State University in Detroit. He points to the Flint crisis and tensions over municipal fees in Detroit – nearly 18,000 customers faced shutoffs last month for years of nonpayment – as the backdrop to the outcry over Nestle’s right to pump more at minimal cost. “In a region where we are water rich and you have incredible water resources, it seems that the law protects certain users and not other users,” he says.