From the Headlines – Week of 3/15/2021

‘Hoodstead’: “I have yet to come across an account that highlights the realities of owning a home as a Black person in the city of Detroit,” reads a social media post from Dakarai Carter and Kamaria Gray, who recently purchased a large home in Detroit’s Osborn Neighborhood with three lots. Adapting the homesteading movement for a Detroit audience, the couple runs the Detroit Hoodstead Instagram page. They discuss rehabbing an older home on a budget and their plans for keeping animals and growing food on their land. (Detour)

Delayed disclosure: Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) learned about potential PFAS contamination in well water used by 20 homes near the Traverse City airport in February last year but waited eight months to notify residents. The contamination is believed to have come from AFFF fire fighting foam used by the U.S. Coast Guard station, located at the airport. One home’s water was found to contain PFOS at a concentration of 1,300 parts per trillion, more than 81 times the state’s limit for drinking water. (MLive, Record-Eagle)  

A return to shutoffs? Although Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said the city will not be returning to water shutoffs before 2022, a statewide moratorium on the practice is scheduled to expire on March 31. “I think it’s really important that people have access to water always, but especially during a pandemic,” said State Sen. Stephanie Chang, who is working to push back the expiration date for the original moratorium. Chang hopes that federal COVID relief money can be used to help individuals and water utilities avoid shutoffs. (Michigan Radio)

Wetlands to the rescue: Thousands of acres of restored wetlands at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge near Saginaw may have helped protect towns along the Tittabawassee, Shiawassee, Cass, and Saginaw rivers during last May’s flooding, which was caused by the failure of the Wixom and Sandford lake dams. Water control structures were opened up at the refuge. The wetlands acted like a giant sponge, absorbing more than 3.25 billion gallons of water and diverting it away from neighboring towns. “Every day, society and people are realizing the benefits of wetlands more and more,” said Chris Sebastian from the conservation group Ducks Unlimited. “We are now realizing that draining these 100, 150 years ago to make way for progress back then really is hurting us now.” (Bridge)

Conflict resolution: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut down the flow of petroleum through the Line 5 pipeline by May 12 is likely to be delayed, as pipeline owner Enbridge and state officials enter mediation. Enbridge has referred to the mediation as a “positive step” and said they would not shut down the pipeline without a court order. However, Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis-Parisio noted that operation of the pipeline after May 12 “would be unlawful.” Former Detroit U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen will serve as the mediator. He previously led the mediation team that ended Detroit’s bankruptcy with the so-called “grand bargain.”  (Detroit News)A plan for propane: Delivering propane to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is frequently cited by backers of the Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline as a reason for keeping the pipeline operating in the Straits of Mackinac. Now, Whitmer has a new plan to deliver propane sans pipeline that relies instead on rail infrastructure, storage, and programs. An Enbridge spokesperson referred to the plan as “wholly inadequate.” Dan Scripps, chair of Michigan’s Public Service Commission, which oversees energy in the state, said the plan would leave Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.” (Bridge)

Falling water: Four consecutive months of below-average precipitation and cold air in February that increased evaporation means that Great Lakes water levels are falling below last year’s record highs. “It looks like the devastating water damage problems of last year’s record water levels won’t be as substantial this summer,” wrote meteorologist Mark Torregrossa. However, water levels on lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, St. Clair, and Erie remain well above long-term averages. (MLive)

Jackson’s water crisis: The city of Jackson, Mississippi, is lifting its boil water advisory after a severe winter storm compromised the city’s water supply for nearly a month. Perhaps residents of Flint and Detroit don’t need a reminder of how precarious water access can be in the United States. Still, Slate delivers a good rundown of what might be learned from this crisis that affected Jackson’s 161,000 residents. Like Texas–which failed to winterize power infrastructure, leading to blackouts–Mississippi hadn’t invested much in its water systems and treatment plants before the storm. Water intakes froze at a Jackson treatment plant, and needed chemicals couldn’t be delivered on icy roads. As often happens, it’s the residents of a predominantly Black city who first see the impacts from this disinvestment, but these problems are unlikely to be limited to such places. (CNN, Slate)

Declining fertility: A new book, Countdown by Shanna Swansays that sperm counts have dropped by 60% since 1973 and could hit zero by 2045. One likely source of the problem is PFAS chemicals, which are known to affect sperm production. Women are also seeing declining fertility, with the average twenty-something woman in some parts of the world being less fertile than her grandmother was at 35. Swan also reports that PFAS disrupts hormone production, leading to a “reduction of semen quality, testicular volume, and penile length.” So there’s that. But of course, the consequences of all this could hardly be more profound. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” Swan writes. “It’s a global existential crisis.” (Guardian)


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