From the Headlines- July 11 – 15

Ozone action: Metro Detroit experienced its second ozone action day this year on Monday, July 11. Environmental regulators told residents in southeast Michigan and counties on the west side of the state to reduce outdoor activities and avoid refueling their vehicles, using lawn equipment, or using charcoal lighter fluid, among other things. Ozone action days are called when hot weather combines with pollutants to create high amounts of ground-level ozone, a trigger for asthma attacks and other lung issues. The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report found that the Detroit area’s air quality had worsened between 2018 and 2020 and that there were more days of unhealthy ground-level ozone. Since ozone formation is tied to higher temperatures, researchers believe that global heating could lead to more days with high levels of ground-level ozone, potentially reversing other efforts to reign in the pollutant. (Freep, MLive)

Swamp makeover: Nankin Lake on the middle branch of the Rouge River is getting some attention as contractors remove thousands of yards of sediment to improve fish habitat and make the lake more welcoming for recreation. The Environmental Protection Agency is funding the work with money set aside through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Once completed, it’s expected to offer deeper water for canoeing, kayaking, and acres of fish habitat and spawning sites. This is one of several projects to improve habitat and allow fish to migrate around dams and other obstructions, revitalizing the highly urbanized Rouge River system. “It will allow the plant and wildlife species to reestablish and/or not be forced to move out because of the changing conditions. When you add it all up with all of the other projects going on — on the Rouge River and other rivers and portions of the Great Lakes — those all combine to address these long-term, historical impairments,” said John O’Meara, habitat restoration manager for the nonprofit Alliance of Rouge Communities. (Freep)

Lead and cancer: Residents and public health experts say a study is needed in Flint to assess the impact of the city’s lead drinking water crisis on cancer risk and mortality. “As the (water crisis) and its effects continue for the residents of Flint, it is important to begin assessing cancer in Flint now, to develop baseline data and information as the time since the height of the (crisis) grows longer,” Genesee County Board of Commissioners administrative director Joshua Freeman wrote in a letter to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel. Lead can weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to infectious diseases and cancer. Another issue may be the spike in total trihalomethanes, a byproduct of disinfection linked to cancer, that occurred after the switch to Flint River water in 2014. Charles Lynch, a professor and epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, says an incident study would provide information about the cancer experience of Flint residents. However, it wouldn’t identify specific risk factors like lead. (Detroit News)

Some progress: For the first time in four years, Benton Harbor’s drinking water is under the federal action level for lead. Tests at 63 homes showed lead at 14 parts per billion (ppb), one point below the federal action level of 15 ppb. However, there is no safe exposure level for lead, and the new tests would still fall above the new threshold of 12 ppb that the state will adopt in 2025. So far, 3,183 service lines have either been replaced or checked to ensure they do not contain lead, while 1,303 pipes still need to be inspected. However, one home tested at 53 ppb, which regulators believe was caused by lead fixtures in the home rather than city pipes.  “Removing all the lead service lines is not a panacea for lead issues in a community because you’ve still got interior plumbing,” said Eric Oswald, director of the drinking water and environmental health unit of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. (MI Radio, Bridge)

Downstream effects: A recent report found that Toledo residents are paying the cost for harmful algal blooms (HABs), with the average person spending $18.76 more a year on their water bills to fund HAB-related monitoring and treatment. These residents are effectively paying for the costs of agricultural runoff, which is the primary source of the phosphorus and nitrogen-feeding toxic algal blooms. “The agribusiness system has relied on the ability to externalize these costs to downstream communities,” said Tom Zimnicki, a policy director for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Although this summer is expected to be a mild one for HABs, Zimnicki expects the events to increase in the future as climate change produces larger storms that produce more agricultural runoff and warming temperatures create prime conditions for algal growth. In 2016, the United States and Canada set a goal of limiting the springtime phosphorus going into Lake Erie tributaries to 6,000 tons a year. But this goal has never been met. Experts say it will require reducing fertilizer applications and decreasing soil erosion, and providing water assistance to the often low-income communities in places like Toledo. (Grist)

Wicked hot: Michigan has been relatively cool, but much of the South, West, and Midwest will continue to see high temperatures over the next week. Earlier this week, record temperatures raised the possibility of power failures in Texas, where residents were urged to turn up their thermostats and turn off unnecessary appliances. Solar power may have helped the state prevent widespread blackouts, setting energy production records and matching air conditioning demand. Outside the U.S., heat waves have also been hitting ChinaPortugal, Spain, and France. The European heatwave is expected to push into the United Kingdom by the weekend, with temps in London touching the upper 90s, roughly twenty degrees hotter than average. Human-induced climate change increases the likelihood of these hotter and more prolonged heat waves. Architects and designers say cities need to begin rolling out strategies like planting trees, painting roofs white, and daylighting rivers and streams to provide cooling. (NY Times, Guardian, Texas Monthly, WaPo)


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