From the Headlines: July 19-23, 2021

Flooding: Metro Detroit was hit by another round of intense storms at the end of last week, with more flooding in some areas. Meanwhile, residents are trying to secure relief and wondering what they can do to protect themselves from storm events that will become more severe with climate change. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest flood-related news:

  • When will it end? Residents of Detroit and suburbs like Grosse Pointe Farms expressed frustration on Friday when storms led to more basement flooding. Portions of M-10, I-94 and I-96 also flooded. The city of Detroit encouraged residents to clear catch basins on city streets during the storms and Dearborn sounded its emergency siren as a warning for potential flooding. (WDET)
  • YES, it’s climate change. “Climate change is increasing the odds of these really heavy rainfalls, and therefore increasing the odds of flooding — particularly where the infrastructure isn’t designed for the kinds of rainfall we are now getting,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. Warmer air carries more moisture, meaning stronger rains when conditions are right. However, this can also create periods of drought when heated air sucks up water through evapotranspiration. This means that the Great Lakes region–which is warming faster than the rest of the country–is likely to see more intense storms as well as periods of drought, as it did in the spring of this year. (Free Press)
  • Planning needed: Wayne State law professor John E. Mogklays the blame for recent flooding on the regional sewage system managed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and Great Lakes Water Authority, saying the region’s infrastructure has never been able to properly manage sewage and stormwater, let along during a historic rain event. Mogk argues that the region needs to invest in public retention basins rather than releasing untreated sewage into waterways during storms and using residents’ basements as de-facto storage ponds. (Detroit News)

Stagnant water: Legionnaires’ disease surged in 25 Michigan counties in early July when compared to the same period in 2020. Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported there were 107 cases of the disease between July 1 and July 14, representing a 569% increase over the 16 cases reported during this time last year. “Recent weather trends including rain, flooding and warmer weather may be playing a role in the rise of reported legionellosis cases this summer,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. In its more extreme form, the disease can cause fever, cough and pneumonia.  Chuanwu Xi, a professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said another possible source of infection is office buildings where stagnant water was left in pipes during the pandemic. (Freep) 

Rewilding: Detroit’s Belle Isle park could see its disused zoo and 9-hole golf course repurposed for other uses, according to Ron Olson, head of parks and recreation for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR is creating a “mini-master plan” to look at rewilding these areas or using them for other purposes such as mountain biking. Sandra Novacek, from the group Belle Isle Concern, believes returning these spaces to nature is the best solution. “Belle Isle was meant to be an escape for people,” she said. “If we keep developing it, it’ll become another place to escape from.” (Detroit News)

Flint cover-up: Reporting from the Detroit Metro Times and The Intercept shows that the phones of several MDHHS officials had no text messages, or very few, for periods of time leading up to the discovery of lead contamination of Flint’s drinking in 2015. Sara Wurfel, former Governor Gary Snyder’s press secretary, previously said that her phone was “wiped” after she left her job in 2015. Government agencies are normally expected to hold onto this information for a set period of time, but some say that with litigation pending over the water crisis, it should have been held indefinitely. The phones of several Department of Environmental Quality (now EGLE) employees were also believed to have been “wiped” during this period. Former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette attacked internal investigations launched by Snyder into the MDEQ and MDHHS’s involvement in the water crisis — while his office was also investigating it — writing in a letter to Snyder that these “may effectively be an obstruction of justice,” according to the article. Other allegations in the article include withholding of emails by the Snyder administration and intimidation of witnesses. Earlier this year, Snyder was charged with willful neglect of duty for his role in the water crisis. “If the actions reported here are accurate,” said Peter Hammer, a Wayne State University law professor, “it is impossible for me to believe that the governor was not aware of the efforts to hide and destroy damaging information.” (Metro Times, Intercept)

Hazardous substances: A bill establishing drinking water standards for toxic PFAS chemicals and labeling two compounds, PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous has been adopted by the U.S. House. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell backed the legislation along with other Michigan lawmakers, including several Republicans. Formally listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous would give regulators the power to compel polluters – including the Department of Defense — to initiate and pay for cleanups. The House passed a version of this bill before, but this legislation is supported by the Biden administration whereas President Trump had opposed it. (Detroit News, Freep)

How hot? An estimated 12,000 Americans die each year from heat, but that number could increase to 97,000 by the end of the century as the climate crisis accelerates. And Michigan and other northern states are likely to see more dramatic increases in mortality than other areas. Even modest reductions to planet-warming emissions and adaptive measures could reduce the impacts from heat significantly. Successful adaptations might include moves to shore up the power grid and keeping people cool during extreme heat, as well as efforts to protect low-income individuals and the elderly, who are more vulnerable during heatwaves. (NY Times)

How we live now: Smoke from wildfires in Oregon, California, and British Columbia made its way to New York and Philadelphia, pushing levels of PM 2.5 (particulate matter) into the “unhealthy” range in those and other east coast cities. High PM 2.5 levels can increase the incidence of asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes. Róisín Commane, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia University, says that the N95 masks used to protect against COVID-19 can also filter out particulate matter. (NY Times)

Floods and fires: While the U.S. media has been focused on wildfires in the American West, a number of other climate-related disasters have been unfolding worldwide. Flooding in Zhengzhou, China filled subway cars and inundated a hospital, cutting off power. At least 25 people in the area have died. And more than a week after floods hit Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, the death toll has risen to 205 and 176 people are still missing. Meanwhile, wildfires in Siberia have covered 3.7 million acres of land and smoke has enveloped the city of Yakutsk, home to more than 280,000 people. The air quality app IQAir has classified the pollution there as “life-threatening”. (NY Times, CNN, Guardian)


Our reporting 

runs deep.

Get the latest local enviro news in your inbox with Planet Detroit.

Scroll to Top