Mich Enviro Report: The First Loan Fund to Fix Faulty Septic Systems, Schools & Prozac

As heard on Friday Edition, May 27, 2011, Delta College Public Radio Q-90.1 FM …
photo of septic system being installed blue tank heavy equipment

A U.S. Department of Energy contest is putting the home in homework.

The DOE, along with the National Science Teachers Association is sponsoring a new national science competition.

The aim is to engage third through eighth graders in a challenge to cut their homes’ energy consumption.

According to the Sierra Club,  teams of students will be charged with monitoring home energy usage for three months, experimenting with ways to boost efficiency and conservation, and encouraging family members to take part.

This fall, students will compare energy data with numbers from last year.

The entries will be narrowed down to 11 regional competitions, and an eventual national contest with the chance for a student to win more than $200,000 in prizes for their school.

You can register your school online at homeenergychallenge.org.

Registration is open now for school principals and teachers until Sept. 30. From September through December, energy data will be measured. The awards will be announced in January 2012.


A new revolving loan fund administered by Bay County will help support upgrades to failing septic systems that impair water quality in Saginaw Bay.

The fund has been established with a $50,000 grant from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network and $14,000 from the Bay Area Community Foundation.

The plan is to use the money as a match for further grant funding from the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Mike Kelly, from Saginaw Bay WIN, says water quality problems in the Saginaw Bay and Great Lakes are often blamed on discharges from wastewater treatment plants. But, residential septic systems, especially those along rivers and streams, also are a culprit.

Often, failing septic systems can continue to pollute due to a lack of money for repairs by a property owner.

The revolving loan fund, which will provide low-interest loans to property owners, is believed to be a first of its kind in Michigan, and one of only a few in the Great Lakes region.

More information about the program is available online at saginawbaywin.org.


Drugs prescribed to treat depression have been found in the waters of the Great Lakes.

Scientists in Erie, Pennsylvania, have found that minute concentrations of fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac, are killing off microbial populations in the lakes. Specifically, the Prozac is killing off E. coli bacteria, a bacteria blamed for beach closings during the summer.

According to National Geographic News, low doses of fluoxetine have been found in water near Lake Erie’s beaches.

While killing off bacteria may seem like a good thing, some scientists believe the antidepressant, combined with other chemicals in the water, could be having a cumulative effect on the lake’s ecosystem. And low levels of the Prozac chemical can damage the brains of fish.

Most fluoxetine is thought to enter waterways after it passes through the body and is excreted in urine. Wastewater treatment plants generally don’t treat for the chemical.


— Septic photo via Soil Science


Preserving Great Lakes Beach Sand

Memorial Day is the traditional start of beach season, although the water is bound to give you the chills this early in the summer/late in the spring. A recent trip up the coast of Lake Huron had me talking with a guy who runs one of the many resorts in the Oscoda area of Northeast Michigan. But what’s with those orange gates?

Is this beach under construction?

No, the resort owner explained. The gates are to keep the beaches from losing their sand. Without the gates, much of the sand here will get washed away during the inevitable storms on Michigan’s Sunrise Side.

There used to be lots more sand on this particular beach, before the owner started putting up gates. He bought the resort after retiring from an auto-related business, and found out about the “need” for gates the hard way.

An internet search for info on “preserving beach sand” and “Great Lakes gates” didn’t yield any results for me. But the technique seems to be in wide use, judging from all the other gates up and down the coastline. They’ll probably be dismantled, like this one, in time for beach season.

More on Beaches

Michigan Sea Grant

Great Lakes Information Network

Mich Enviro Report: Saginaw Kids Hunt for Shipwreck & Two on Lake Michigan

As heard on Friday Edition, May 20, 2011, Delta College Q-90.1 FM:


Students from the Saginaw area are hunting for a shipwreck near Alpena. 

The students are part of Project Shiphunt, which is taking place in the waters of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron.

Earlier this week, the students embarked on a research vessel. Their mission is to discover a sunken ship in the lake, and learn about science and math.

There are five students aboard, all from Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw.

The students will locate a shipwreck in the national sanctuary, investigate its identity, then document it in 3D.

They’ll be working with scientists and historians on the project, which is co-sponsored by Sony and Intel.

The scientists and historians are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The students will work directly with a NOAA nautical archaeologist and researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

A reception to kick off the project was held at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, which is the visitor center for the underwater sanctuary.


A few years ago, the company known as BP proposed to increase its pollution discharges to Lake Michigan as part of an expansion of its Whiting, Ind., refinery.

The plan was delayed, but research that grew out of a public outcry over the proposal may have some benefits for reducing industrial pollution to the Great Lakes, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Researchers at Purdue University and Argonne National Laboratory have released the results of an investigation of several proposed treatment options for removing heavy metals from wastewater.

The research was funded by a $5 million grant from BP. It determined that methods involving reactive filtration, ultra-filtration and adsorption are the most promising.

Purdue University and Argonne National Laboratory researchers plan to test ultra-filtration at BP’s Whiting refinery to determine if their results can be replicated on a larger scale.

The startup of BP’s expansion has been delayed until 2013.


A Great Lakes restoration project in Muskegon is expected to generate a six-to-one return on investment.

The project is on Muskegon Lake, located in West Michigan on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

The federal government is spending $10 million to remove 180,000 tons of unnatural fill from the lake bottom and rehabilitate about a mile of shoreline.

That work is expected to generate more than $66 million in economic benefits over ten years
and attract nearly 65,000 new visitors. This is according to an analysis released by the Great Lakes Commission, a government agency.

Commission officials say the project will create habitat for fish and wildlife resources and improve recreational opportunities for local residents and tourists.

The study, conducted by Grand Valley State University, also includes economic gains from increased property values.

Muskegon Lake was designated as Area of Concern in 1987 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to historic filling of open water and wetlands, along with pollution discharges that contaminated the lake bottom.

Photo Credit: NOAA

Mich Enviro Report: Dirty School Air, Dirty Sewer Systems & Consumers Energy Efficiency

As heard on Friday Edition, May 13, 2011, Delta College Q-90.1 FM …
The air your kids breath could be hurting their grades in school.

photo michigan air pollution school report

Air pollution concentrations from industrial sources, with school locations.

A new study by University of Michigan researchers links air pollution near Michigan schools to poorer academic performance, and poorer student health.

The report says that schools located in areas with high industrial air pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates and the highest amounts of students who failed to meet state educational testing standards.

Out of almost 3,700 public schools in Michigan, 62.5 percent of them are located in places with high levels of air pollution from industrial sources, according to the research.

The majority of the most-polluted sites in Michigan are in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. The most-polluted locations form a horseshoe-shaped band stretching from the Thumb region south to the Ohio border, then west to Lake Michigan and north to Grand Rapids and Muskegon.

The researchers say Michigan and other states should require an environmental-quality analysis when officials are considering sites for new schools.

Half of all states, including Michigan, do not require any evaluation of the environmental quality of areas under consideration as sites for new schools, nor do they prohibit building new industrial facilities and highways near existing schools.

The research was published in a peer-reviewed journal called Health Affairs.


A ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of Michigan sewer systems includes Bay and Saginaw counties.

The list, from the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, points to almost 15 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage that’s been discharged to Michigan rivers, lake and streams in the first four months of 2011.

Included in that 15 billion gallon figure, taken from state records, is more than 88 million gallons of sewage from Bay County, the third-highest discharger in Michigan, below Wayne and Macomb counties. Bay County sewage goes to the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

Saginaw County came in at No. 5 on the list, with 63 million gallons.

A total of 86 percent of the Dirty Dozen sewage came from Wayne County, with 13.4 billion gallons.

Sewer discharges occur when overloaded and aging sewer systems are overwhelmed by heavy rains or snow melt.

In Bay and Saginaw counties, sewage typically receives partial treatment before a discharge. But partially treated sewage still contains bacteria that can lead to beach closures and river contamination advisories.

The association says the state needs to take long-overdue steps to repair or replace Michigan’s aging underground sewer systems.


Last week, we talked about DTE Energy. This week, it’s Consumers Energy.

The Jackson-based utility says its customers saved about $38 million last year through an energy efficiency program.

One of the most popular aspects was the sale of discounted light bulbs.

Last year, 1.2 million compact fluorescent light bulbs were sold at a lower price at several retailers as part of the Consumers Energy program.

Payments for recycling old refrigerators and freezers also were popular, the company says.

Customers can receive $30 for offering up old fridges and freezers to Consumers Energy. The company picks up the old appliances, and people save an average of $150 a year on their electric bills by unplugging an energy hog.

Consumers Energy says 2010 energy efficiency efforts saved enough energy to supply electricity to about 30,000 homes.

Consumers Energy customers pay a total of about $3 a month in surcharges on their electric and natural gas bills to fund the energy efficiency program.

Mich Enviro Report: Riverview Natural Area, DTE Efficiency & Au Sable Makes the List

As heard on Q-90.1 FM, Friday Edition, Delta College, May 6, 2011:


The Little Forks Conservancy is readying the Riverview Natural Area for a public opening.

The conservancy, based in Midland, recently closed on the purchase of 419 acres of natural land on the Tittabawassee River in Midland County.

The Riverview Natural Area is home to frogs, bald eagles and wildflowers, and contains mature woods and farmland.

The conservancy recently acquired the property for a total of $1.5 million. The conservancy launched a fundraising campaign back in 2008 to purchase, protect and manage the land.

Funding came from The Conservation Fund, individual donors, foundations, corporations and government sources. The conservancy’s staff and board kicked in more than $100,000.

At the beginning of this year, there was still $350,000 to be raised. The last hurdle was cleared when the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation agreed to provide the rest of the funding to complete the purchase.

The conservancy is now working to lay out trails for public use, and is offering guided visits for the public. 

A parking lot has been constructed with additional funding from the Dow Foundation. A formal dedication is planned for the fall.


It pays to be energy efficient.

DTE Energy customers who participated in the company’s energy efficiency programs saved $31 million in 2010.

The utility estimates that those customers will see a lifetime savings of $520 million.

The DTE program is funded by a surcharge on bills, under energy legislation passed in Lansing in 2008.

The DTE program includes appliance recycling, in-home energy audits, low-income weatherization assistance, and rebates and discounts on energy efficient light bulbs, programmable thermostats and clothes washers.

Other highlights of 2010 participation include the recycling of almost 23,000 old refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners and dehumidifiers; and the purchase of more than 3 million, discounted compact fluorescent light bulbs

More information on DTE Energy’s energy efficiency programs is available online at YourEnergySavings.com.


The Au Sable River has been named to a national Waters to Watch list.

And that’s a good thing.

The 2011 list was recently unveiled by the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

It’s a collection of 10 rivers and watershed systems across the country that are due to benefit from conservation efforts to protect, restore or enhance their current condition over the next year.

The group says the waters represent a snapshot of voluntary habitat conservation efforts in progress throughout the U.S. The projects, including one on the North Branch of the Au Sable, are being implemented by regional partnerships under a National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

The plan, funded in part by government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, aims to conserve freshwater and others habitats that are essential to fish and wildlife species.

Other rivers and watershed systems on the list are located in New York, Louisiana, Alaska, Utah, Texas, Idaho and Hawaii. The Manistee River in Michigan also is listed.

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