Potentially radioactive material in Detroit River, Environmental racism allegations leak in Macomb, & DNR lies to kill U.P. wolves

December 6, 2019 | CO2 2019/2018 410.90 / 408.64 ppm <<--www.co2.earth/daily-co2

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And now for this week’s news….

Potentially radioactive collapse on the Detroit River shoreline

(Updated 12.6.19)

The Windsor Star reports that the Detroit Bulk Storage site near Fort Wayne has partially collapsed into the Detroit River. Formerly-owned by Revere Copper, this location was used to manufacture uranium rods for atomic bombs, starting with the Manhattan Project in World War II and continuing into the 1950s.

There have been conflicting reports on the level of radiation at the site and widespread concern over the delayed response from authorities. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) said they only learned about the event this week, which happened on November, 26th. EGLE remediated part of the site in the 1990s and found readings that were “below background levels” for radiation.

A bigger concern might be other contaminants from the site or the chance that the collapse disturbed toxic sediments on the riverbed. Recent studies have shown that there is an estimated 5.1 million cubic meters of contaminated sediment on the Detroit riverbank that includes PCBS, PAHs and mercury.

The City of Detroit has water intakes downriver from the collapse. So far the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) hasn’t issued any information about where this water is going or if it is testing this water for new contamination or radiation.

EGLE has said it will investigate the collapse, which could include ordering new tests for water samples from the GLWA. Activists have expressed dismay at the lack of information available to the public.

“How in the world is it possible that we are hearing from Canadian news networks, days late at that, before we are hearing from our own authorities in charge of protecting us?” said Justin Onwenu of the Sierra Club. “Michiganders deserve emergency response systems in place that will assure communities that public health and safety is adequately protected.”

It’s unclear how high water levels this past year might have influenced the collapse. But as we’ve recently reported, multiple Superfund sites are threatened by climate change across the nation, including twenty-one in Michigan. Many of these are imperiled by flooding or sea-level rise.

Environmental racism alleged in Macomb County methane leak

A methane leak from a retired waste dump near Quinn Road (i.e. 14.5 mile) and Gratiot has drawn accusations from the mostly African American residents of the area, which includes Robbie Hall Parker Elementary School. “If this happened in a white neighborhood, people would be up in arms demanding a quick resolution to the problem,” Greg Murray, director of the Michigan Advocacy Coalition (MAC) said.

Deadline Detroit reports that residents are also complaining about the lack of warning from Clinton Township or State officials when the leak was discovered, as well as the historical location of a waste incinerator and other landfills in the same area. Murray said:

There were large swaths of land throughout Clinton Township in the 1960s and 1970s, so it’s by no means an accident, we believe, that these facilities were placed in the Quinn Road community… intentionally. That’s the very definition of environmental racism. 

The buildup of methane gas can be deadly if it makes its way into buildings or other confined spaces because its flammable and can act as an asphyxiant.

Nestle strikes out in court (bottle water not an essential public service)

In what some see as a limited ruling in a larger fight over pumping groundwater for sale, a Michigan appellate court has upheld Osceola Township’s decision to refuse zoning approval for a booster pump that Nestle would use to help transport its Ice Mountain brand of bottled water.

According to the Freep, critics have charged that impacts from the company’s water withdrawals could be seen in the levels of nearby lakes and streams. Nestle’s right to draw water here was denied by the appellate court who wrote in their ruling that while access to water is essential for most activities, the right to access it for sale, “is not essential.”

Ultimately, Nestle’s ability to access water in Michigan at the rate of 400 gallons per minute could be decided by the Michigan Department of Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) who are reviewing the impact of this practice and its effect on wells and watersheds.

Tom Perkins writes about Nestle’s efforts to privatize water assets in The Guardian:

If it is to carry out such plans, then it will need to be legally recognized as a public water source that provides an essential public service. The Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson, who did not represent Osceola township but has previously battled Nestlé in court, said any claim that the Swiss multinational is a public water utility “is ludicrous”.

Michigan DNR and lawmakers made stuff up to kill wolves

In 2016 Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources made the controversial decision to kill three wolves after they attacked cattle on the Dykstra ranch near Ontonagon, Michigan IN FRONT OF Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Brad Johnson.

Which is pretty scary, except that it didn't happen.

In a report for Bridge Magazine, writer John Barnes showed how the DNR and lawmakers, “embroidered, misstated or outright fictionalized the threat that gray wolves posed to humans.”

The killing of wolves in Ontonagon followed on several other reported incidents in the western Upper Peninsula where wolves were reported to be threatening humans and were shot. Although wolves killed a number of cattle during this time, Barnes’ search of DNR emails show an embellishment of the factual reports from workers like Johnson, perhaps in an effort to save the state on money that they are required to pay to ranchers whose animals have been killed by wolves.

Former State Senator Tom Casperson also gave a “misleading account” about the threat posed by wolves in the area.

“The records obtained by Bridge raise questions about the credibility of state wildlife leaders as honest brokers in the debate over whether to delist gray wolves from federal protection,” Barnes writes.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has said she would review the DNR’s conduct as well as how it might have used the state’s weak freedom of information laws to cover up for itself. And so that’s why we need journalism.

Dire warning ahead of UN Climate Summit

A paper issued in the journal Nature warns that we are rapidly approaching climate tipping points that could lock in catastrophic warming. Events like the melting of part of the West Antarctic ice-sheet or the loss of the Amazon rainforest could tip the balance and set off a series of connected events, referred to as a “global cascade”.

“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute,” the paper’s authors write.

This comes ahead of the annual United Nations Climate Summit and at the same time as a UN report that shows procrastination on the issue has us headed for about a 3.2 degrees Celsius of warming, well above the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.

“The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry, and transportation,” Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization says.

Solutions & Bright Spots

Teaching kids about climate resiliency: Detroit’s EcoWorks and the Southeast Michigan Stewardship coalition were among several organizations profiled by The New York Times for work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Environmental Literacy Program.

In Detroit, this work has allowed the Communications and Media Arts High School to host a climate change forum and survey neighborhood homes to see how well they could handle extreme weather.

Here’s what to put on your face: In this week’s installment of WDET’s sustainability series, Anna Sysling goes deep on vegan makeup. Turns out, you don’t have to give up your lipstick to be friendly to animals and the environment.


Local environmental jobs & volunteer opps