Sustainability in the news

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Project aims to find new ways to convert river water into drinking water as pollutants evolve

The Great Lakes Water Authority is contracting with Wayne State University to do research at its Waterworks Park treatment plant in Detroit. Inside the facility, there’s a 12,000-to-1 scale model of the water treatment system. It’s large enough for people to work inside and “mimics the operations of this huge full-scale drinking water plant,” said Carol Miller, a civil engineering professor and the director of Wayne State's Healthy Urban Waters Program. The university will use the model to find new ways the plant can convert river water into drinking water. Miller says there are many steps that river water goes through before it gets to your kitchen faucet. Researchers are looking at how impurities are removed in various steps in the process and to better understand how to handle new and emerging contamination threats. “The idea here is that you definitely don’t want to mess with the actual full-scale operating system that is working to deliver drinking water for our region until you’ve tested something out,” Miller said. Our group has been looking very closely at the group of contaminants that are just generally called PFAS compounds. Also, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.” Another key area for the project is workforce development to train people for jobs in the water utility industry. The pilot plant allows them to educate potential employees and students on the operation of the full-scale water treatment plant.  

Researchers working to reduce micro-plastics in the Great Lakes

Plastic waste may be a bigger problem in the Great Lakes than we realize. Researchers from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University met in Traverse City on Monday to discuss the impact that micro-plastic pollution has not just on the Great Lakes, but for us. 22 million pounds of plastic go into the Great Lakes every year. As researchers work to lower that number, the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay says the amount of trash in the bay increases every year. The micro-plastics found in the water can also be harmful to our health. “We know historically that micro-plastics, one of the many issues, is that they can carry molecules that can be harmful or toxic to organisms, including people,” said Dr. Rodrigo Fernandez-Valdivia, professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. It’s estimated we swallow microscopic plastic materials that add up to a credit card a week. “You can find it in food, as well as beverages, so you don’t know, you’re not aware of it, but you are actually ingesting micro-plastics,” said Fernandez-Valdivia. Single-use plastics seem to be the biggest culprit. “I think probably most people are most familiar with the plastic bags at grocery stores or other types of stores, having your own bag to use, using paper instead – could be a better choice, but it’s also single-use meaning little bags for sandwiches, bottled water,” said Britany Affolter-Caine, executive director of Michigan’s University Research Corridor.  
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Michigan poised to have advantage as demand grows for EV jobs, experts

Detroit is the Motor City and as a result, change is speeding toward us fast. We are witnessing a historic shift toward electric vehicles. There is no doubt rapid technological change will impact the lives of many. Some jobs will go away, by many will also be created. As electrification decreases demand for internal combustion engine vehicles, some jobs will over time become obsolete. There is not a clear picture of how fast this will happen and whether the number of jobs needed in electrification will outnumber them regionally. The globe is competing for the new jobs. The idea is knowing that change can be empowering. “The state leadership is thinking ahead of many other states, so I’m happy and proud to see this,” said Weisong Shi, an associate dean at the Wayne State University College of Engineering and a computer scientist. Shi says Michigan’s Office of Mobility, created by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, may give the Motor City a big advantage as it works to coordinate between companies, educators and other stakeholders to bring businesses here as we shift not just to electric, but also autonomous vehicles. Shi says computer science graduate students are getting multiple opportunities above six figures. The university works to have partnerships with many industries in its lab to give students many opportunities, but companies still ask for exclusivity.  
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Wayne State receives $3.1 million grant to seek alternative sources of rare earth elements

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at Wayne State University have been awarded a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ERCD program to seek alternative sources of rare earth elements critical to advanced military and consumer technologies. The project, Rare Earths from U.S. Extractions – or REUSE – will focus on both basic and related applied research in science and engineering with the goal of developing a U.S. rare earth element supply chain as well as a process of handling waste streams. REUSE is led by two principal investigators, Matthew J. Allen, chair and professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Timothy M. Dittrich, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.    
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Go green: local communities’ sustainability efforts

Wayne State University’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Daryl Pierson, thinks that bringing students together who are studying different subjects, and faculty who are in different areas, to form a multidisciplinary approach about sustainability is important. “You can't really just look at it from one side in order to get something that's truly sustainable,” he said. Pierson said that those who think things are moving too slowly need to be patient and not get frustrated, but continue to share the message of efficiency and the benefits of its work. It will ultimately lead to a big difference all around. Ashley Flintoff, director of planning and space management at WSU, said there’s also interdisciplinary sharing with students, who bring in fresh ideas and teach them while also being taught. Collaboration is vital to sustainability moving forward. Flintoff hopes that sustainability is able to get woven into the everyday vernacular and become less of a thing where people toot their horn about and have banners every time they achieve something with sustainability. "You just work it into your everyday life so that eventually the goal is that everything that you do has the sustainability aspect to it,” she said. “You don't have to think about it, you just do it. It just becomes kind of normal.”
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Researchers progressing in fatberg study

A fatberg discovered in a Macomb County sewer had led to a more introspective look on the subject, courtesy of a pair of Wayne State University researchers. Barely more than a year ago, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller stood at a podium and discussed how a 100-foot long, 19-ton fatberg was discovered in a sewer 50 feet underground as part of the Lakeshore Interceptor along Interstate 94. A few months later, Wayne State University researchers acquired an $86,000 National Science Foundation grant that has allowed them to study how fats, oil and greases, or FOGs, lend themselves toward these environmental blobs. It also helps compile a model, aimed to predict future situations when fatbergs might arise — not just in Macomb County, but anywhere. “We’ve been working very closely with the Macomb County Department of Public Works to investigate the whole fatberg phenomena,” said Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Healthy Urban Waters at WSU. “Macomb County has been really helpful, and we have a wealth of information regarding system characters, and data regarding pressure flows of pipes before and after the fatberg.” Carol Miller works alongside Tracie Baker, assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Their research as part of the grant will continue for about another four months.
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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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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.