From the Headlines- May 2 – 6

New standard: The number of Michigan children considered to have elevated levels of lead in their blood could double as a result of the state’s new standards. This follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which lowered their threshold for elevated lead levels from 5 micrograms per deciliter to 3.5. (1 microgram per deciliter is equal to .01 parts per million.) Kory Groetsch, environmental public health director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said that previously 2% to 3% of children tested had elevated lead levels, but that the number could rise 3% to 6% under the new standards. These children will be eligible for services like home lead investigations, lead abatement, and in-home nursing case management. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can impair development and there is no known safe blood concentration. (MI Radio)

Parks plan: Detroit released the draft of its Parks and Recreation Plan for the next decade, which aims to improve resident access by creating new parks and increasing the percentage of Detroiters who are within a ten-minute walk of a park from 80% to 95%. The Detroit Parks and Recreation Department ) looks to improve over 100 parks with the plan and create capital improvement plans for larger destination parks. The city also plans to open new recreation centers in the Chandler Park, Jefferson Chalmers, and Nardin Park neighborhoods. The city will host three open houses to discuss the plan and get resident feedback at the following times and locations:● May 17 from 4 pm-6 pm at the Adams Butzel Center (10500 Lyndon St)
● May 31 from 4 pm-6 pm at the Butzel Family Center (7737 Kercheval St)
● June 28 from 4 pm -6 pm at the Patton Center (2301 Woodmere St)

Making a splash: “A straight up river otter in the Detroit River,” Eric Ste Marie, a graduate student in integrative biology at the University of Windsor, announced in a Facebook video on April 25. “Have you ever heard of something so controversial?” No Eric, no we have not. The return of the semiaquatic mammals to the Detroit River follows sightings of the animals at Point Pelee Park in Ontario in 2019, the first time they were observed there since 1918. “The Detroit Zoo is so excited to hear that the Detroit River is now clean enough for river otters and is committed to working with regional partners to further conservation efforts, including for river otters,” saidElizabeth Arbaugh, curator of mammals at the Detroit Zoological Society. In less fun, but still, important news, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a $57 million, 50-year recovery plan for the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, a critically endangered species only found in Manitoba and a small area of Oakland County. The tiny butterflies had been common in prairies and fens, but their population crashed starting in the 1990s, likely a result of habitat loss, droughts, and pesticide use. The recovery plan focuses on restoring habitat and reintroducing butterflies that are being bred by zoos and universities. (Metro Times, Great Lakes Now, Bridge)

Tree planting and beautification: The city of Detroit is sending out $2.5 million to neighborhood block clubs, churches, and other community groups for beautification projects. These groups can apply for grants ranging from $500 to $15,000 to develop vacant land or put in community gardens. “I have personally seen how community efforts like this one have transformed neighborhoods,” said City Council President Mary Sheffield. “We build a sense of community and instill pride on blocks across the city.” Detroiters can also request a street tree for the berm, or area between the sidewalk and street, in front of their house. The city will select a tree based on environmental factors and water it once a month for two years. “Especially with the projected impact of climate change, with our earth warming, it’s essential for us to go ahead and restore tree canopy within the City of Detroit,” saidAngel Squalls with the city’s Forestry Department. (WDET, MI Radio)

The price of neglect: Federal money and rare bipartisan action have created an opening to address the disinvestment in water infrastructure that has plagued Michigan for years. The state recently passed a $4.7 billion infrastructure package with $1 billion for drinking water upgrades, $712 million for sewer, septic system, and stormwater infrastructure, and $325 million to replace lead service lines. But much more help may be needed for cities like Flint and Detroit where declining populations and tax revenues have made it difficult to properly maintain water infrastructure and have left residents paying water bills that, adjusting for inflation, roughly doubled between 1980 and 2018. However, even cities with more resources like South Haven have struggled to maintain aging water systems. That city recently had to raise its water rates to fund projects like replacing the crumbling, century-old standpipe that pressurizes the city’s water system. In rural areas, aging septic systems and the lack of statewide sanitary code contribute to problems with algal blooms and E.coli bacteria in lakes. As things stand, Michigan will be using $35 million in federal loans to fix failing septic systems. But Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy estimate there are 330,000 failing septic systems in the state. If $10,000 was spent to repair each one that would cost the state $3.3 billion. (MI Radio, Circle of Blue, Bridge)


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