WBEZ | pollution http://www.wbez.org/tags/pollution Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Hawks on the rise http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/hawks-rise-109889 <p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/hawks/#/page1" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bird%20TOPPER.jpg" title="" /></a></p><p><em>Artwork by Chicago-based artist <a href="http://dianasudyka.com/">Diana Sudyka</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/140433257&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe><em>Editor&#39;s note: This episode of the Curious City podcast includes a story about the resurgence of Cooper&#39;s Hawks in Chicago. It starts at 4 minutes, 45 seconds into the program.&nbsp;(Subscribe via&nbsp;<a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/curious-city/id568409161" target="_blank">iTunes&nbsp;</a>or&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CuriousCityPodcast" target="_blank">Feedburner</a>!)&nbsp;</em></p><p>This story about hawks was a long time coming for Carole Zemont of Chicago&rsquo;s Norwood Park neighborhood. Carole thinks she&rsquo;s &ldquo;genetically predisposed&rdquo; to be interested in birds, after growing up watching them at the bird feeder her mother put up in their backyard.</p><p>That lifelong interest &mdash; as well as a recent hawk sighting of hers &mdash; led Carole to ask Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Is anybody studying the increasing hawk activity in Chicago&rsquo;s neighborhoods?</em></p><p>Her question covers several topics, including the people on the lookout for hawks, but we thought we owed it to Carole to suss out whether &mdash; in fact &mdash; there&rsquo;s a local population of hawks on the rise. While tracking this down, we came across a bit of a wildlife conservation success story.</p><p><strong>(Chicken) hawks on the increase</strong></p><p>Observant bird-watchers like Carole suspect there are more hawks in the area, but have professional researchers taken note, too?</p><p>Well, there are several local researchers who study and document the goings-on of wild critters in our urban and suburban environment, but when it comes to studying hawks specifically, we can turn up only one: Mason Fidino of the Urban Wildlife Institute. Founded in 2009, the Institute&rsquo;s part of Chicago&rsquo;s Lincoln Park Zoo.</p><p>For the first part of Carole&rsquo;s question, does Fidino&rsquo;s work show that there is an increased hawk population in Chicago? &nbsp;&ldquo;Yes! It&rsquo;s a pretty resounding yes,&rdquo; he says. Fidino is recreating a historic bird count that was conducted in Lincoln Park from 1897 to 1903, and he&rsquo;s able to compare current bird populations with this century-old data. One hawk in particular stands out in Fidino&rsquo;s studies: the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk, which he describes as the &ldquo;most abundant,&rdquo; frequently seen bird of prey in Lincoln Park. This is quite a change from the historic study, where the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk &ldquo;was not seen whatsoever.&rdquo;</p><p>These birds were once widely viewed as a menace and even hunted in the past. Nicknamed &ldquo;chicken hawks,&rdquo; they were despised as chicken thieves.</p><p>Fidino points me to the historical record, where we can find sentiments from people like Alfred O. Gross, a man who eventually became a respected ornithologist. In 1906 Gross conducted a bird census in Illinois. He described the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk as a &ldquo;handsome robber&rdquo; with a &ldquo;perverted taste for chicken.&rdquo;<a href="http://www.thinglink.com/scene/502929837053181952" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Cooper's Hawk inline image.jpg" style="height: 443px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Rendering of a Cooper's Hawk, otherwise known as a Chicken Hawk, by Chicago artist Diana Sudyka." /></a></p><p>Later, the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/ddt-brief-history-status.htm" target="_blank">pesticide DDT </a>also damaged their population. Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks mostly eat other birds, so they would have ingested all of the DDT concentrated in their prey animals. The pesticide caused eggshells to thin, and they would crack under the weight of the large birds. The Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk was even on Illinois&rsquo; endangered species list from 1977 through 1997.</p><p>Eventually, human interference loosened: We stopped shooting &ldquo;chicken hawks,&rdquo; we banned DDT, and, according to Fidino, the hawks came back.</p><p><strong>How easy is it to see one?</strong></p><p>Mason Fidino says you can find hawks in the city if you look for them &mdash;especially Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks. &ldquo;Often enough you&rsquo;ll see hawks circling around,&rdquo; he says, adding you can also spot them perched on tree branches. Fidino advises curious residents to &ldquo;spend some time on a weekend, take a walk out in a park. You should be able to see a bird of prey or two.&rdquo;</p><p>Fidino says he sometimes even sees hawks hunting in Chicago&rsquo;s Lincoln Park. If you see something quickly zooming towards the ground, it could be a hawk looking for lunch. For his part, Fidino will see the hunting bird just out of the corner of his eye. It will be &ldquo;this really quick movement going from the top of the tree downwards to whatever it&rsquo;s trying to catch. Then its talons go out, and it grabs what it&rsquo;s going after and then it&rsquo;ll swing back up or land with it,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks have nests that are smaller than squirrels&rsquo; bulky, leafy nests. Another way to catch a glimpse of a hawk is to keep an eye on their nest &ldquo;and see who shows up,&rdquo; Fidino says.</p><p><strong>A possible hawk menace?</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s reassuring to see a previously struggling species thrive, but perhaps you&rsquo;re wondering about a downside. Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks survive mostly by hunting smaller birds. Will we be hearing about a &ldquo;save the chickadees&rdquo; campaign in a few years?<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Flickr_%20Mike%20Ormsby_Copper%27s%20Hawk.jpg" style="height: 346px; width: 275px; float: left;" title="Cooper's Hawks look very similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, but differences can be detected with key details like tail feather shape. Our field guide gives more clues for distinguishing the species. (Flickr/Mike Ormsby)" /></p><p>Fidino is not worried. Populations of top predators like hawks tend to be much smaller than their prey species. The relatively few chickadees or pigeons who end up being a hawk&rsquo;s lunch shouldn&rsquo;t significantly damage their population. The various bird populations, Fidino says, &ldquo;should be able to work themselves out into what you&rsquo;d kind of consider an equilibrium.&rdquo;</p><p>Hawks mostly hunt birds, although they&rsquo;ll also dine on small mammals. It&rsquo;s very rare for pets to come under attack by raptors. However, when pressed, Fidino will advise that owners of small pets might want to &ldquo;be mindful of the species that they&rsquo;re adding to the ecosystem,&rdquo; and perhaps not leave especially tiny dogs unattended in the back yard.</p><p><strong>The adaptation game</strong></p><p>Carole wondered if we&rsquo;re seeing more hawks in Chicago because they&rsquo;ve developed adaptive behaviors to live in cities. Dr. Seth Magle, the Urban Wildlife Institute&rsquo;s director, says that&rsquo;s not the case. He described the concept of &ldquo;habitat analogs,&rdquo; where parts of our built environment function to animals the way their natural habitat does.</p><p>Magle provides the example of pigeons. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re cliff-dwelling species, but in cities we build these big tall buildings, so to pigeons they may kind of look like cliffs,&rdquo; and thus look like home, he says.</p><p>Hawk behavior is similar. Red-tailed hawks like to perch on something tall, and power lines along the highway function perfectly for that task. Other species, including the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk, feel perfectly at home in trees near humans. And why not, now that we city-dwellers and suburbanites are more interested in watching hawks than shooting them.</p><p><em>Special thanks to the <a href="http://www.birds.cornell.edu" target="_blank">Cornell Lab of Ornithology</a> for permission to use images, bird listings and sound for this story.</em></p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is an independent producer. Follow her on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/katieklocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.<a name="hawkscreensavers"></a></em></p></p> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/hawks-rise-109889 How much road salt ends up in Lake Michigan? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This episode of the Curiuos City podcast includes an audio story about road salt. It begins 5 minutes, 50 seconds into the program. (Subscribe via <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/curious-city/id568409161" target="_blank">iTunes </a>or <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CuriousCityPodcast" target="_blank">Feedburner</a>!)</em></p><p>Aaron Stigger is a graphic and web designer born and raised in Oak Park. He caught Curious City&rsquo;s attention with <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/1522" target="_blank">this question</a>:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><font><font>How does all the winter salt runoff affect Lake Michigan&#39;s water?</font></font></em></p><p><font><font>But he </font></font><em><font><font>really </font></font></em><font><font>piqued our interest after telling us the backstory.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;On my way to work everyday I pass by this gi-normous salt pile, which is kind of plopped down on some dirt and some broken-up cement,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That kind of got me thinking: Well, if it&rsquo;s seeping into the ground under this big, uncovered pile, what is it doing, all the salt we distribute all around the city?&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><a href="https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=41.954739%2C-87.79664800000002&amp;cbp=%2C65.45%2C%2C0%2C9.139999&amp;layer=c&amp;panoid=S-PkH0iF7NxMblex4A7Wog&amp;spn=0.18000000000000152%2C0.30000000000001953&amp;output=classic&amp;cbll=41.954739%2C-87.796648" target="_blank"><font><font>The particular mound of salt</font></font></a><font><font> that Aaron saw is in Dunning, a neighborhood on the city&rsquo;s Northwest Side. That mound&#39;s got company: Chicago stores 19 piles of salt across the city. And that&rsquo;s not counting many more spread across the suburbs and Northwest Indiana.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But is there really a wall of brine heading to the lake and, if so, should we be worried? We found out that, at least according to a few environmental standards, Lake Michigan is actually in much better shape than Stigger expected. But another waterway may have earned his concern.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Just how much salt are we talking about, anyway?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before we get to specifics on any effects on Lake Michigan, let&rsquo;s put the amounts of road salt we use into perspective, at least when it comes to Chicago.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Since November 2009, the city has spread an average of 215,456</font></font>&nbsp;tons of salt to melt snow and ice each year, according to figures provided by The Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation:<a name="chart"></a></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="300" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/CbhQh/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="350"></iframe></div><p><font><font>That&rsquo;s counting this winter,&nbsp;</font></font><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637" target="_blank"><font><font>which has been particularly brutal</font></font></a><font><font>. As of February 28, the city already dumped more than 370,000 tons of salt on city streets &mdash; a solid 42 percent more than the next heaviest use in the previous five years.</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/aaron%20stigger%27s%20salt%20pile.jpg" style="height: 304px; width: 525px; margin: 5px;" title="The Chicago salt pile that Oak Parker Aaron Stigger sees on his way to work. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" /></div><p><font><font>It&rsquo;s not just a problem in Chicago. Humans move a lot of salt. A 2004 study estimated that we mobilize more than 140 teragrams &mdash; that&rsquo;s 140 billion kilograms &mdash; of chlorides every year.</font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><font><font><strong>Video: </strong><a href="#video">Just how big are these salt piles</a>?</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Salt&rsquo;s destination: our streams and rivers</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So, with some of these figures in mind, let&rsquo;s consider the effects.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s &ldquo;aha moment&rdquo; came about when he saw one of the city&rsquo;s salt piles while it was uncovered. It&rsquo;s a reasonable concern, given that researchers from the University of Rhode Island </font></font><a href="http://www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww/Publications/Chlorides.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font>estimate uncovered salt piles lost about 20 percent</font></font></a><font><font> of their salt each year. Much of it ends up in nearby waterways.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most piles are covered during the off-season, however, so salt used for deicing is the main source of urban chloride pollution. Chemists know salt as NaCl, or sodium chloride, which breaks down in water. Hence there are pollution measurements and standards for &ldquo;chlorides,&rdquo; not &ldquo;salt.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But where&rsquo;s this runoff headed? The hydrological lay of the land is such that most salt-laden runoff in Chicago ends up in the Chicago River and other inland waterways &mdash; not Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>The principal reason is that </font></font><a href="http://chicagopublicradio.org/story/should-we-reverse-chicago-river-again-95661" target="_blank"><font><font>the city reversed the flow of the river more than 100 years ago</font></font></a><font><font>, so most of our runoff ends up in the waterways that feed into the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.</font></font><a href="http://www.isws.illinois.edu/pubdoc/B/ISWSB-74.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font> A 2010 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found</font></font></a><font><font> road salt runoff and treated wastewater from the Chicago region are the dominant sources of chlorides in the navigable sections of the Illinois River, and two major tributaries in the Chicago region. The study says that number has risen steadily since about 1960.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;The lake doesn&rsquo;t receive very much input from stormwater from the city of Chicago,&rdquo; says Scott Twait, who works in IEPA&rsquo;s Water Quality Standards division. &ldquo;However with all the salting, all the road salt enters into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Cal-Sag channel, and flows downstream to the Des Plaines River. And collecting all the runoff, the chloride levels can spike in those areas and get quite high.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>In high concentrations, chlorides can be toxic to aquatic life. But it&rsquo;s hard to tell how many times salt runoff from Chicago has caused toxic levels of chlorides in inland waterways, because the Illinois Pollution Control Board doesn&rsquo;t classify those waters as &ldquo;General Use&rdquo; waterways. Those waters are subject to Illinois&rsquo; 500 mg/L water quality standard. Instead, IEPA regulates &ldquo;total dissolved solids&rdquo; in Chicago-area waterways, lumping together chlorides, sulfates and other chemicals for a single reading. Chloride levels have spiked above 1000 mg/L in some inland waterways &mdash; twice IEPA&rsquo;s standard for most of the state.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Chicago-area waterways are the only ones in the state that aren&rsquo;t regulated by General Use standards. As Twait explained, that&rsquo;s because they were so polluted when the standards were set that they earned their own benchmarks. (You can see IEPA&rsquo;s </font></font><a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/tmdl/303d-list.html" target="_blank"><font><font>full list of impaired Illinois waterways here</font></font></a><font><font>.)</font></font></p><p><font><font><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Aaron%20Stigger%20by%20Kurt%20Gerber.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 220px; width: 220px;" title="Aaron Stigger asked Curious City about road salt runoff. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" />&ldquo;Back in the 70s these were the only waters that were kind of beyond repair, as to their thinking back in the 70s, so they got kind of special standards&rdquo; Twait says. &ldquo;They really had no hope for them in the future.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But those waters are much cleaner now. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which handles and treats the region&rsquo;s combined runoff and sewer water, has improved its filtration methods. MWRD Spokeswoman Allison Fore &nbsp;says they&rsquo;ve adopted best practices suggested by the DuPage/Salt Creek Work Group for managing their roadways and facilities.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Twait says EPA is looking to bring Chicago-area waterways in line with the rest of the state&rsquo;s rivers and streams. If they update the water quality standards, he says, &ldquo;one of the things we know is that we&rsquo;ll have chloride issues in the winter time.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Regulators would come up with some kind of limit for chloride in Chicago-area rivers. That could make cities think twice before spreading so much road salt. It&rsquo;s much tougher for the EPA to regulate salt from so many spread-out sources (storm drains spread out across the city and suburbs) than from, say, a factory with a fallout pipe dumping salt into the river.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So our question asker Aaron Stigger is right to worry about salt runoff, but not so much in Lake Michigan. In Chicago&rsquo;s case, it&rsquo;s our inland waterways that are in trouble.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Corrosive chlorides and city infrastructure</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before it even gets into area waterways, salt works its way through the city&rsquo;s subterranean network of pipes. That can cause problems for the city&rsquo;s Department of Water Management, which provides drinking water to Chicago and 125 suburbs. They also deliver stormwater to MWRD for treatment.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Tom Powers, the city&rsquo;s commissioner of water management, says chlorides are at such a low concentration in Lake Michigan that his department barely takes note.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;It would require an incredible amount of road salt to affect Lake Michigan &mdash; that&rsquo;s a very robust system,&rdquo; Powers says. &ldquo;When we test [the water], it doesn&rsquo;t even appear on what we&rsquo;re testing for.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>The EPA&rsquo;s national drinking water standard for chloride is 250 mg/L, some 20 times higher than Lake Michigan&rsquo;s current concentration. Chicago&rsquo;s Dept. of Water Management, like many such agencies, adds water softeners that can include salt. But it&rsquo;s not enough to even approach the EPA limits.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But road salt can corrode the pipes that carry that water, exacerbating the stress that the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle puts on an aging network of water pipes that would stretch 4,500 miles if laid end to end. About 1,000 miles of those water pipes are 100 years old or older, Powers says. In 2009 the department had to repair 8,873 catch basins &mdash; more than twice last year&rsquo;s 3,647.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Development in urban areas makes the salt corrosion problem worse, by funneling more runoff into the system. Studies have correlated growth in chloride levels with the rate of urbanization, and even with miles of road in the vicinity of the waterway in question.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;While we are right to be cautious in applying &lsquo;common sense&rsquo; to such things,&rdquo; says Stephen McCracken, who coordinates the Conservation Foundation&rsquo;s DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, &ldquo;in this case the relationship seems quite straightforward with salt being applied to road surfaces, increased road density means a larger salt total applied, even at a constant application rate.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>So more development, more impervious surfaces, more runoff.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>A saltier lake?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So not much of that salt ends up in Lake Michigan. But there is enough runoff to register an increase in Lake Michigan&rsquo;s chloride levels since Chicago first started spreading road salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, says the current chloride levels in Lake Michigan are around 12 milligrams per liter.</font></font></p><p><font><font>That number has risen since widespread use of road salt began around 1960, according to</font></font><a href="http://www.saltinstitute.org/" target="_blank"><font><font> the Salt Institute</font></font></a><font><font>. Chloride levels in Lake Michigan rise about 0.1 mg/L each year, but they&rsquo;re still well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s 500 mg/L standard for &ldquo;General Use waters&rdquo;. Nationally, EPA&rsquo;s criteria for chloride toxicity</font></font><a href="http://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/water/standards/ws_review.pdf?amp;tabid=1302" target="_blank"><font><font> are 230 mg/L over a four day average, or an hourly average of 860 mg/L</font></font></a><font><font>. (EPA is currently reevaluating that standard, which was first set in 1988.)</font></font></p><p><font><font>If you measure chlorides in Lake Michigan in the spring, however, you pick up all that winter road ice and runoff. Since 1980, springtime average chloride levels have risen almost 50 percent:</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/epa data salt.png" title="" /></div><p><br /><font><font>High chloride levels choke aquatic species that depend on a certain salinity to keep their bodies in equilibrium. Amphibians, like salamanders and frogs, are especially susceptible to chloride pollution. Many of them breed in temporary </font></font><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/93733769@N03/9396817314/" target="_blank"><font><font>vernal pools</font></font></a><font><font> that are cut off from other bodies water, and thus have no way to flush out excess salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>IEPA&rsquo;s Biggs says chlorides in Lake Michigan aren&rsquo;t threatening aquatic life. &ldquo;There are not significant concerns or actions being taken to reduce chlorides in Lake Michigan as they are still reading below the water quality standard,&rdquo; she wrote in an email. &ldquo;We do not feel that salt runoff from the Chicago area is a major contributor to the chloride levels in Lake Michigan.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Winter deicing is the major driver of high chloride levels in Chicago&rsquo;s waterways, but wastewater treatment also contributes. In the outfall of waste water treatment plants in DuPage County, for example, chloride levels are more than ten times higher than they are in Lake Michigan. Studies by the Illinois State Water Survey and MWRD sampled the water flowing out from MWRD&rsquo;s Stickney wastewater treatment (the largest such plant in the U.S.), and found median chloride levels of 145 mg/L, compared to 8-12 mg/L in Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most of MWRD&rsquo;s contribution comes from human waste itself, which contains chlorides. They also use ferric chloride to help filter wastewater &mdash; the chemical is useful for, among other eyebrow-raising processes, &ldquo;sludge thickening&rdquo; &mdash; but are moving away from that in favor of biologically-based techniques that would replace ferric chloride.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>If you can&rsquo;t beet &rsquo;em ...</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So what&rsquo;s the city doing to cut back on its salt use?</font></font></p><p><font><font>Dept. of Streets &amp; Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe says they train salt truck drivers to spread salt judiciously &mdash; that means waiting until plows have cleared most standing snow, since salt sprinkled on top of several inches of the white stuff won&rsquo;t do much. When the forecast calls for mild temperatures, salt trucks take it easy and let the weather do some of the work.<a name="video"></a></font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="323" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/WphGL9fjbbo" width="575"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>City workers move salt at the depot at Grand and Rockwell (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)</em></p><p><font><font>The city even enlists an unusual fruit cocktail of sorts to get more out of its salt: beet juice. It&rsquo;s full of sugar, and helps lowers the freezing point of ice. Mixing salt with molasses or another sugary substance can do the same thing. Salt solutions are good too, because they spread out easier than rock salt so they&rsquo;re more efficient. Wisconsin has started spraying cheese brine for similar reasons.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Typical salt (sodium chloride) is not effective in subzero temperatures, but other salt compounds can break ice crystals at lower temperatures &mdash; calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are common substitutes, but they eat into concrete and metal faster than table salt. Right now the city uses sodium chloride.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s salt pile is probably going to exist as long as severe winter weather visits Chicago. But if IEPA ups the standard for the metropolitan area&rsquo;s inland waterways, he might start to see the salt disappear a little bit more gradually.</font></font></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/"><font><font>Chris Bentley</font></font></a><font><font> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at</font></font><a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"><font><font> @Cementley</font></font></a><font><font>.</font></font></em></p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 13:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 Fish and risks: Eating Lake Michigan catch http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fish-and-risks-eating-lake-michigan-catch-109808 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This story has an addendum that addresses a follow-up question we received via a comment. The current article addresses chemicals that are of concern to environmental agencies and that affect issuance of fish consumption advisories. The <a href="#addendum">addendum </a>addresses additional chemicals of concern.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Steve Ediger says he&rsquo;s not an avid fisherman, but he has cast a few lines. When he was growing up, his grandfather would take him fishing in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.</p><p>About six years ago, he moved to Chicago&rsquo;s northernmost neighborhood of Rogers Park, where he sees people<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/fishing"> fishing</a> off Farwell Pier. It got him wondering about the fish those anglers catch, so he asked Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;What would it take for Lake Michigan fish to be safe to eat?&rdquo;</em></p><p>Ediger suspects Lake Michigan fish aren&rsquo;t entirely safe to eat, and he&rsquo;s not alone. With major cities and industrial centers like Chicago, Milwaukee and Green Bay along its shores &mdash; as well as the <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-23/news/ct-met-bp-mercury-20130623_1_bp-refinery-whiting-refinery-oil-company-bp">refineries of Northwestern Indiana</a> &mdash; Lake Michigan is no stranger to pollution. To find out just how much of the stuff ends up in the fish we pluck out of the lake, I asked a few people with different angles on the situation. Turns out a lot of work goes into monitoring and disseminating information about contaminants in Lake Michigan fish. We find out which are most worrisome to fishermen and toxicologists, but also why you shouldn&rsquo;t let that scare you off eating fish entirely.</p><p><strong>A pro&rsquo;s perspective</strong></p><p>I put the question to someone who handles Lake Michigan fish every day: Joel Reiser, captain of the Chicago charter boat company<a href="http://www.bnrcharters.com/"> Brush And Roll</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;Pretty much everything is edible in Lake Michigan with moderation,&rdquo; he says. Reiser brings up to six people on chartered fishing trips in Lake Michigan, leaving from<a href="http://www.wbez.org/chicago-unveils-new-south-side-boat-harbor-99912"> 31st Street Harbor</a>. They catch chinook salmon, coho salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. His crew cleans and bags up to five fish per customer (only two lake trout), which they can take home to eat.</p><p>He&rsquo;s been eating fish from Lake Michigan and elsewhere since he was a child. That might worry some people who have heard unsettling things about Lake Michigan fish. One fish market I called looking for Lake Michigan fish told me to &ldquo;try to the cancer ward.&rdquo;</p><p>With <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-07/news/ct-met-great-lakes-plastic-pollution-20130807_1_lorena-rios-mendoza-lake-michigan-toxic-chemicals">stories of polluted waters</a> swirling, Reiser watches out for government-issued fish advisories and eats seafood in moderation. But he says fish from any waters can contain contaminants.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve never heard of anyone growing a third eye, you know, some of the jokes that are out there,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So I believe that it&rsquo;s safer. I believe the government does put higher standards on it, just as a safety precaution just to cover &mdash; no pun intended &mdash; their own tail.&rdquo;</p><p>It turns out, Reiser&rsquo;s basically right. In casting about for an answer to Ediger&#39;s question, we found out Lake Michigan&rsquo;s pollution problems aren&rsquo;t the whole story. The horror stories are overblown, but they&rsquo;re rooted in truth.</p><p><strong>(Fish) food for thought</strong><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/210637870/Lake-Michigan-fish-How-many-should-you-eat" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big fish graphic 2.png" style="float: right; height: 882px; width: 320px;" title="Click to download a printable version. (Graphic by Logan Jaffe/WBEZ)" /></a></p><p>Tom Hornshaw, a toxicologist with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s &ldquo;<a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/surface-water/fish-contaminant-mon.html">fish contaminant monitoring program</a>,&rdquo; helps gather data that goes into those government advisories. Since 1974, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and IEPA have nabbed fish (mainly bass, channel catfish and carp)<a href="http://mercnet.briloon.org/projects/IL_EPA_-_llinois_Fish_Contaminant_Monitoring_Program/144/"> from 500 locations</a> in Illinois for contaminant testing. I asked Hornshaw point-blank: Is it safe to eat fish from Lake Michigan?</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;as long as you follow the various advisories that have been issued for Lake Michigan fish.&rdquo;</p><p>If you&rsquo;re wondering what Captain Reiser meant by &ldquo;moderation,&rdquo; you might start with the<a href="http://www.ifishillinois.org/regulations/consumption.html"> general fish consumption advisory</a> from the Illinois Department of Public Health.</p><p>State agencies keep<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/index.htm"> a running list of current fish advisories statewide</a>, which vary by species and body of water. They also change over time. On a <a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/lakemichigan.htm">page that&#39;s specific to Lake Michigan catch</a>, the agency provides warnings for&nbsp;10 fish species. The DNR doesn&rsquo;t recommend you eat any of them more than once a week, and some come with the unequivocal advice: &ldquo;<strong>Do Not Eat.</strong>&rdquo; This applies to lake-caught carp and channel catfish.</p><p>The advisories vary based on the fish&rsquo;s size, in some cases. Take the yellow perch,<em> Perca flavescens</em>. Fish less than 11 inches long, the Illinois DNR says, should be eaten at most once per week. But you should only eat perch larger than 11 inches once per month. Likewise lake trout, a popular sport fish can that grow up to three feet long, carries three tiers of advisories: less than 25 inches? One meal per month; 25-29 inches? Six meals per year; larger than 29 inches? Do not eat.</p><p>If you fish in Wisconsin, use that state&rsquo;s<a href="http://dnr.wi.gov/FCSExternalAdvQry/FishAdvisorySrch.aspx"> online query tool</a> to check on the water you&rsquo;ll be fishing. Indiana, too,<a href="http://www.in.gov/isdh/23650.htm"> updates its fish consumption advisories online</a>.</p><p><strong>PCBs: What&rsquo;s all the fuss about?</strong></p><p>One of the major culprits are a group of chemicals known as PCBs. Polychlorinated biphenyls<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/fishadvisory_qa_pcb.htm"> are a group of man-made chemicals useful in a variety of industrial processes</a>, including the insulation and cooling of electrical equipment. EPA banned their use in 1979, after it was widely recognized PCB pollution had caused skin conditions and immune system disorders. Studies have also linked the chemicals to cancer. We produced more than one billion pounds of the stuff in the U.S., about half of which made its way into the environment.</p><p>They take a long time to break down, so PCBs are still prevalent in the environment.<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/waukegannorthharbor.htm"> There is a specific advisory for Waukegan North Harbor</a>, where Outboard Marine Corp.<a href="http://newssun.suntimes.com/news/14980816-418/waukegan-harbor-pcb-mess-finally-getting-scrubbed.html"> dumped PCBs</a> as a byproduct of their manufacturing process. That cleanup is ongoing.<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-07/news/ct-met-waukegan-harbor-cleanup-20120907_1_susie-schreiber-cleanup-sites-epa-remedial-project-manager"> EPA is dredging the harbor</a>, a <a href="http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/" target="_blank">Superfund site</a> once called the &ldquo;world&rsquo;s worst PCB mess.&rdquo;</p><p>But PCB pollution continues long after its source is cut off. PCBs still find their way into the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes"> Great Lakes</a> through a process called<a href="http://www.epa.gov/glindicators/air/airb.html"> atmospheric deposition</a>. They travel around the world through the atmosphere, falling out of the sky at high latitudes. That&rsquo;s why scientists have found high levels of the stuff in the Arctic, thousands of miles from the factories that pumped out PCBs in the 1970s.</p><p>At this point Hornshaw, the EPA toxicologist, says atmospheric deposition is probably the primary source of PCBs in the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes"> Great Lakes</a>. He says there&rsquo;s a simple, one-word answer for what it will take for Lake Michigan fish to become safer for consumption.</p><p>&ldquo;Time,&rdquo; he says. Not 10 years, but less than 100. These chemicals take a long time to break down, but they&rsquo;re not invincible. Beth Murphy, who manages EPA&rsquo;s Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance program, passed along this graphic showing PCB declines against a 1994-95 baseline (the red line):</p><p><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/trout%20chart.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="" /></p><p>The graph suggests that by 2035, assuming progress continues, you should be able to eat all the Great Lakes lake trout filets that you want without fear of PCBs.</p><p>Lake and river sediments are especially good at holding onto PCBs, so bottom-dwelling fish tend to have higher levels (hence the &ldquo;Do Not Eat&rdquo; advisory on carp and channel catfish in Lake Michigan). PCBs also accumulate in fatty tissues, so it&rsquo;s important to filet wild-caught fish properly before eating them.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fish%20cutting.gif" style="float: left;" title="" /></p><p>PCBs aren&rsquo;t very soluble in water, so swimming isn&rsquo;t going to result in dangerous exposure.</p><p><strong>Getting the good stuff</strong></p><p>It turns out Captain Reiser&rsquo;s suspicion that government agencies were covering &ldquo;their own tail&rdquo; is correct.</p><p>&ldquo;The advisories may be overprotective for women beyond childbearing age and for adult men,&rdquo; reads<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/fishadvisory_qa_pcb.htm"> an FAQ from the Illinois Department of Public Health</a>. That&rsquo;s especially true for<a href="http://www.epa.gov/hg/exposure.htm"> mercury &mdash; a potent pollutant found in fish from Lake Michigan and around the world</a>.</p><p>Fetuses, nursing babies and young children are especially vulnerable, so the advisories are drafted with a low tolerance for risk. Mercury can severely hinder development of the fetal nervous system. EPA found<a href="http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/technical.cfm#tabs-4"> mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent from a survey conducted in 1999-2000</a>, but it&rsquo;s still a concern.</p><p>But eating fish has a lot of health benefits, too, so long as you don&rsquo;t exceed the advisories. Eight Great Lakes states are two years into a study funded by the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes"> Great Lakes</a> Restoration Initiative, weighing the benefits of eating fish against the risks. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re trying to come up with ways of incorporating the benefits of eating fish along with the deleterious effects,&rdquo; Hornshaw says, &ldquo;so we can have a more focused advisory.&rdquo;</p><p>Pat McCann, a fish advisory specialist with Minnesota&rsquo;s Department of Public Health says it&rsquo;s important to keep in mind the big picture.</p><p>&ldquo;The benefits do outweigh the risks if you eat fish that are low in contaminants,&rdquo; McCann says. &ldquo;So the challenge is to get people information about which fish are low in contaminants, and get it to them in a way that&rsquo;s understandable and that they can adopt in their normal life.&rdquo;</p><p>A lot of people swear off fish altogether, but McCann says that&rsquo;s actually counterproductive. Take the group of people most sensitive to mercury contamination: pregnant women. Mercury impairs neurological development in fetuses. But the McCann says that doesn&rsquo;t mean women should avoid all fish entirely.</p><p>&ldquo;Women of childbearing age and pregnant women need to eat fish, because fish have Omega-3 fatty acids, and other good nutrients, and it&rsquo;s a good source of protein,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;And so those things are good for the baby. So if they stop eating fish that&rsquo;s a negative thing.&rdquo;</p><p>Concentrations of mercury and PCBs are above guidelines for walleye and lake trout in all of the Great Lakes. Mercury levels were getting worse in Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie when <a href="http://binational.net/solec/sogl2011/sogl-2011-technical-report-en.pdf">EPA and Environment Canada released their 2011 &quot;State of the Great Lakes&quot; report</a>.</p><p><strong>Reeling it in</strong></p><p>One place you&rsquo;ll find Great Lakes fish on sale in Chicago is Market Fisheries at 7129 S. State St., in the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/greater-grand-crossing"> Greater Grand Crossing</a> neighborhood. They&rsquo;ve been owned and operated by the Brody Family since 1957.</p><p>Curtis Alexander, the market&rsquo;s manager, shows me around. The market&rsquo;s busy. People pull numbers and step up to order catfish or perch, while an employee behind the counter scales and hacks up fish.</p><p>Alexander says their suppliers are mostly based in Canada, so they don&rsquo;t sell Lake Michigan fish. But they&rsquo;ll gladly clean your catch.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of time I clean fish that people go and catch from Lake Michigan,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You got the yellow lake perch over there, you got the little bluegills, walleye pike, you know bigmouth bass &mdash; there&rsquo;s a lot of fish that they catch from Lake Michigan. People go fishing, they bring them in here, sometimes we clean it up for them.&rdquo;</p><p>No one brings in fresh-caught fish from Lake Michigan while I&rsquo;m there. But trout fishing season in Illinois starts April 5, and Alexander may have new customers soon. IDNR added four new areas for rainbow trout fishing this year, including Chicago&rsquo;s Wolf Lake&mdash;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-can-you-hunt-chicago-108954">one of two hunter-friendly oases in the city proper</a>.</p><p>Our question-asker, Steve Ediger, knows a few people who might take advantage of that new fishery. In an informal survey of his fishing friends, Ediger found that concerns over PCBs and mercury aren&rsquo;t deal-breakers for avid anglers.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll tell you the one thing everybody says,&rdquo; Ediger says. &ldquo;They were less suspect of the fish they catch than the fish they get in the supermarket.&rdquo;</p><p>Mercury and PCB pollution are problems for fisheries all over the world &mdash; not just Lake Michigan. Clean-up efforts here have come a long way, but new pollutants could set us back. A BP refinery in Northwest Indiana <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-23/news/ct-met-bp-mercury-20130623_1_bp-refinery-whiting-refinery-oil-company-bp">came under fire last year</a> when it missed a federal deadline to put in place new pollution controls for mercury (state regulators gave them an exemption).</p><p>And if <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/asian-carp">the threat of invasive species like Asian carp</a> proves as devastating as some studies predict, Great Lakes fisheries could collapse whether or not we continue to clean up the water.</p><p>So, a corollary to Tom Hornshaw&rsquo;s one-word answer to our question: What will it take to make Lake Michigan fish safe to eat? Time, and our attention.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong><a name="addendum"></a>Addendum: other chemicals</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Mercury and PCBs are the major chemicals that Illinois&rsquo; state EPA tests for and regulates, but <a href="http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/monitoring/fish/">there are other contaminants worth considering</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Many other chemicals meet the two main criteria for raising fish contaminant concerns: <a href="http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-54783_54784_54785_54800-256866--,00.html">they&#39;re bioaccumulative and persistent</a>. That means they build up in the tissues of aquatic organisms, and they stick around. They can broadly be categorized by the term the EPA uses, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/international/toxics/pop.html">persistent organic pollutants</a>.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Besides mercury and PCBs, a few other common contaminants fit the bill: pesticides such as DDT, chlordane, and dieldrin; and dioxins, a carcinogenic group of chemicals created in the course of many industrial processes. (Dioxins are chemically similar to PCBs, which could themselves be counted under that blanket term.)</p><p dir="ltr">More recently, Great Lakes environmental agencies <a href="http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/monitoring/fish/pbde.html">have tracked the dilution of another potentially harmful contaminant</a>. A group of flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) were phased out starting in 2004. Measurements by Environment Canada <a href="http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/monitoring/fish/pbde.html">show</a> declines in PBDE concentrations across the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan, but Illinois EPA doesn&rsquo;t track PBDEs in fish. As toxicologist Tom Hornshaw explains, the reason isn&rsquo;t lack of concern &mdash; it&rsquo;s lack of funding.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Currently PBDEs are not addressed in our fish advisory program&mdash;our lab is not set up to do PBDEs and it would require purchase of an expensive piece of equipment to analyze for them,&rdquo; Hornshaw writes in an email.</p><p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s important to note in this addendum that the chemicals we&rsquo;re phasing out now don&rsquo;t disappear immediately. That&rsquo;s why they call them persistent pollutants. PCBs, DDT and other chemicals in the Great Lakes are contaminants largely inherited from a time roughly 50 years ago. We have to wonder what legacy today&rsquo;s garbage will have on future Great Lakes residents.</p><p dir="ltr">Already <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/31/us-usa-pollution-greatlakes-idUSBRE96U03120130731">tiny plastic beads pose a threat</a> to fish health and environmental quality in the region.</p><p dir="ltr"><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City, and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 16:13:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fish-and-risks-eating-lake-michigan-catch-109808 Chinese government to pay to stop pollution http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-02-17/chinese-government-pay-stop-pollution-109717 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/(AP PhotoEugene Hoshiko).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences reports that Beijing is &ldquo;&quot;barely suitable&quot; for living because of pollution. Judith Shapiro, author of &#39;China&#39;s Environmental Challenges&#39;, discusses the Chinese government&#39;s battle with toxic air.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-14/embed" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-14.js"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-14" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Chinese to pay to stop pollution" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:10:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-02-17/chinese-government-pay-stop-pollution-109717 Morning Shift: Palm oil's unsavory beginnings http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-08-07/morning-shift-palm-oils-unsavory-beginnings-108314 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Palm Oil-Flickr- cyn_nister.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We discuss the Bloomberg investigation into the unsavory practices in the palm oil industry. And do you care who your children&#39;s role models are? Baseball&#39;s recent PED scandal is calling the issue of role models to the plate.</p><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-37.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-37" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Palm oil's unsavory beginnings" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Wed, 07 Aug 2013 08:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-08-07/morning-shift-palm-oils-unsavory-beginnings-108314 Morning Shift: Medical marijauna 101 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-08-05/morning-shift-medical-marijauna-101-108283 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Marijuana 2-Flickr- it was 3 a.m.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Today we school you on the ins and outs of Illinois&#39; new medical marijuana law. Still confused on what it entails? Call us with your questions. And &quot;Deal Estate&quot; columnist Dennis Rodkin breaks down the boom in Chicago&#39;s hotel industry.</p><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-35.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-35" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Medical marijauna 101" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Mon, 05 Aug 2013 08:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-08-05/morning-shift-medical-marijauna-101-108283 Behind the fracking boom, a sand mining rush http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-fracking-boom-sand-mining-rush-108078 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/for cover.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><a name="#starved"></a><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F101336097&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F101360760&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Sand mining is a largely-overlooked side effect of the fracking boom. &ldquo;Frac sand&rdquo; refers to the fine, white silica or quartz sand that is in high demand for use in hydraulic fracturing. The fracking process involves drilling a well thousands of feet underground, cracking open the shale rock, and shooting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into the miniscule cracks to force out natural gas. The sand serves as a &ldquo;proppant&rdquo; to hold open the cracks in the rock.</p><p>Most of that sand comes from regions where fracking itself is not taking place. LaSalle County, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, has historically been the silica mining capital of the country. Now with the fracking process coming to some of Illinois&rsquo; downstate communities, the frac sand issue is grabbing a little more attention, although, as of yet, the downstate prospecting for natural gas wells has little effect on the sand mining industry in the northern part of the state.&nbsp;<strong>Listen in on the controversy over a proposed mine adjacent to Starved Rock State Park </strong><strong><a href="##starved">(above)</a></strong>. And then read on for some key facts about mining for frac sand.</p><p>While reporting this story, WBEZ also came across a case of severe and dangerous water contamination next to a frac sand mine in LaSalle County. While&nbsp;<strong>the problems with the water in Wedron remain an unsolved mystery <a href="##starved">(listen above)</a></strong>, check below for what we do know about Wedron.</p><h2><u><strong>Key Facts About Frac Sand Mining in Illinois</strong></u></h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Frac sand is not just for fracking.</strong>&nbsp;The sand that most companies want to use as a proppant in fracking fluid is the purest possible silica, or quartz, in a round and even grain size. The silica found in the midwest, in what&rsquo;s called the St. Peter sandstone formation, is perfect for the companies&rsquo; purposes&mdash;and it&rsquo;s also the sand that forms the majestic bluffs at Illinois&rsquo; Starved Rock State Park. This same sand has long been mined for commercial and industrial uses like sandboxes and glass. It&rsquo;s particularly advantageous for mining operations to find areas where silica is close to the surface.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sand mining has been going on in Illinois since at least the 1860s.&nbsp;</strong>A mine belonging to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ussilica.com/locations/ottawa-il" target="_blank">U.S. Silica,</a>&nbsp;the largest sand mining company in the country, has been located in Ottawa, Illinois since the 1860s.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There are five silica sand mines in Illinois,</strong>&nbsp;four of them in LaSalle County. Three new mines have been proposed and permitted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) but they are not currently operating. Over the last five years, U.S. Silica, Unimin and Fairmount Minerals, companies with long-standing mines in LaSalle County, have all increased production and opened new facilities in other states.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Illinois is historically the silica sand capital of the country.&nbsp;</strong>In 2012, the state was second behind Texas in production of silica sand. Wisconsin is a close third: the number of sand mines in Wisconsin more than&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2011/07/31/sand-mining-surges-in-wisconsin/" target="_blank">doubled from 2010-2011</a>&nbsp;and has been growing since, although in 2012&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2012/10/25/updated-map-frac-sand-rush-slowing/" target="_blank">the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported the rush to get new mining permits was slowing</a>. Many of the more than 100 Wisconsin mines have a far lower production capacity than Illinois&rsquo; well-established mines.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Demand has skyrocketed.</strong>&nbsp;The demand for silica sand suddenly shot through the roof with the growth of the fracking industry in the late 2000s. In 2011, U.S. silica consumption was over 26 million tons; in 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey reported it had nearly doubled to over 45 million tons. Prices spiked for a couple years, although now companies in Illinois and Wisconsin report the pricing has leveled out as supply begins to meet demand. The owner of Mississippi Sand, LLC says his sand will sell for $100-$150 per ton, including transportation.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Protections for workers have improved.</strong>&nbsp;Breathing in the fine particulate matter from silica mining&nbsp;<a href="https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/crystalline-factsheet.pdf" target="_blank">can cause silicosis and other lung diseases</a>. But in contrast to the first hundred years of mining for silica sand, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now requires protections for workers such as wearing face masks. Still, many mines have been found in violation of federal and state standards, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5416a2.htm" target="_blank">a federal study</a>&nbsp;reported 148 deaths from silicosis in 2002.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Air pollution from dust is a risk of silica mines.&nbsp;</strong>The federal EPA doesn&rsquo;t regulate airborne silica, but states may require air quality monitoring around mines. The proposed Mississippi Sand mine next to Starved Rock State Park will have to get an Illinois EPA air quality permit in order to start mining.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Most mines use a lot of water.</strong>&nbsp;Silica sand mining operations use water to wash sand, and they may also use water to keep down dust on windy days. In addition, many surface mining operations dig down into aquifers, which means some mines pump out water to the tune of millions of gallons per day in order to reach the desired sand.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Silica mining can contaminate waterways.</strong>&nbsp;<a href="http://stopthestarvedrocksandmine.wordpress.com/talking-points/" target="_blank">Environmentalists say water containing silica sediment may silt up streams and harm wildlife.</a>&nbsp;Water quality around sand mines is regulated by states, and in Illinois, surface mines are required to get a water discharge permit for operation. The proposed mine next to Starved Rock State Park has a permit to discharge over five million gallons of water per day into a nearby creek, and an average of 1.4 million gallons per day. The mine will be required to submit monthly water quality reports. In Wisconsin,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2013/03/03/frac-sand-dnr-violations/" target="_blank">a recent report</a>&nbsp;found many mines violated water quality standards in 2012. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Mining can lower the water table and disturb wetlands.</strong>&nbsp;Because some sand mines reach below the water table, mining operations may involve pumping water out of the ground. These operations are known to alter water levels in certain areas, including at a sand mine in Wedron, Illinois that is now&nbsp;under investigation for its connection to groundwater contamination.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sand is shipped out by train, barge and truck.</strong>&nbsp;The owner of Mississippi Sand, Tony Giordano, says about 100 trucks a day will leave the mine near Starved Rock once it is in full operation. Each truck carries about 25 tons of sand to a nearby train or barge terminal for long-distance shipping. In the case of Mississippi Sand, almost all the silica sand will be headed for fracking operations in other states.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Mining in Illinois is regulated by the state, counties and cities.</strong>&nbsp;There are no federal environmental standards related specifically to silica, so the environmental effects of silica mining are monitored at a state level. In Illinois, cities and counties with zoning laws can control permits for proposed mines, but may not have the authority to impose taxes or control environmental practices or traffic.</p><p><strong>A proposed mine next to Starved Rock State Park has been approved.&nbsp;</strong>The mine belonging to Mississippi Sand that would be adjacent to Starved Rock received a special use permit from LaSalle County in 2012, and it was also permitted by the IDNR and the Illinois EPA. Coincidentally, the IDNR also manages the state park that activists contend will be at risk. The IDNR said in a written statement to WBEZ, &ldquo;During the review process, the IDNR examined potential impacts to threatened and endangered species in the area and made recommendations to the county board based upon that analysis...Since then, the mining company has provided and satisfied all information requirements provided by law and thus, IDNR approved its permit to the company.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The mine next to Starved Rock is not yet under construction.&nbsp;</strong>In December 2012, the Sierra Club, Openlands, and the Prairie Rivers Network filed a lawsuit against the IDNR and Mississippi Sand, contending that the permit fails to comply with state law protecting wetlands and wildlife. Mississippi Sand owner Tony Giordano said in July 2013 that he can&rsquo;t say when operations will begin at the mine, but he believes the permitting process is proof that the mine is neither unique nor hazardous to the area.&nbsp;<strong><a href="##starved">Listen to the whole story.</a></strong></p><h2><u><strong>Key facts about the water contamination case in Wedron, Illinois</strong></u></h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Wedron is home to one of the largest sand mines in the country.</strong>&nbsp;Wedron Silica, now owned by&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fairmountminerals.com/Fairmount-Corporate/About-Fairmount/History.aspx" target="_blank">Fairmount Minerals</a>, was established in the area 125 years ago and has expanded to become one of the largest sand mines in the county, now employing over 200 people. Fairmount also operates mines in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There is benzene in the groundwater supply.</strong>&nbsp;Benzene is commonly found in gasoline and petroleum along with toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, all of which have shown up in groundwater and well water tests in Wedron.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxguides/toxguide-3.pdf" target="_blank">Benzene is carcinogenic</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<a href="http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/benzene.cfm#four" target="_blank">US EPA drinking water standard</a>&nbsp;for enforcement is five parts per billion (ppb). The recommended standard is zero. Wells in Wedron have tested at up to 2400 ppb for benzene. It may also be absorbed through the air; as of July, 2013, the EPA was awaiting test results regarding benzene vapors in Wedron.&nbsp;<strong>Hear the Wedron story (</strong><strong><a href="##starved">above)</a></strong><strong>.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Benzene is not associated with the process of mining for frac sand.&nbsp;</strong>The mining process may use a lot of water and kick up a lot of dust, but it does not routinely require chemicals like benzene. If benzene in Wedron is somehow related to the presence of the mine, it would have to do with products used to clean equipment, or for maintenance or transportation, not mining itself.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Benzene could be associated with equipment used at the mine, or with an old spill.</strong>&nbsp;Twice in the last fifty years, trains have derailed in Wedron and spilled petroleum directly into the ground. Recent investigations have also uncovered underground storage tanks from former gas stations on the land now belonging to Illinois Railway, which hauls sand in and out of Wedron. A final theory on the source of the contaminants, suggested by Bob Bowcock, an environmental investigator for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.brockovich.com/projects/wedron-illinois/" target="_blank">Erin Brockovich</a>, is that a mixture of chemicals including petroleum and solvents come from an equipment maintenance facility on the Wedron Silica property. Fairmount Minerals, the owner of Wedron Silica, denies this charge.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The groundwater flow has been altered by mining in Wedron.</strong>&nbsp;A 2013 EPA groundwater study found that the pumping up of water out of a mining pit on the west side of town has likely caused the groundwater in Wedron to flow west, away from the train tracks and across town toward the pit. If this is true, that would be an alteration to its natural path. The&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/wedron/pdfs/wedron-memo-201302.pdf" target="_blank">EPA document&nbsp;</a>says &ldquo;mining operations are generally responsible for the reversal of natural groundwater flow direction and lowering the water table in Wedron.&rdquo; If the mine ceased to use the pit, the water could reverse itself and begin to flow downhill toward the river again.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In 2007, Fairmount Minerals opened a new frac sand treatment facility called Technisand.</strong>&nbsp;Technisand produces resin-coated sand for fracking, and has facilities in Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma and Mexico. The company has declined to discuss whether benzene could be involved in the Technisand operation in Wedron, but maintains that it does not believe Wedron Silica is responsible for a petroleum spill.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>An investigator from Erin Brockovich&rsquo;s office says they intend to file suit against the sand mine.</strong>&nbsp;Bob Bowcock, an environmental investigator for the Brockovich firm, says the suit will ask for damages on behalf of 35 residents of Wedron.&nbsp;<em>(Updated July 17. A previous version of this story listed the number involved in the suit as 25.)</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Lewis Wallace is a reporter. Follow him on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 17 Jul 2013 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-fracking-boom-sand-mining-rush-108078 With bill passage, Illinois on a fast track to fracking http://www.wbez.org/news/bill-passage-illinois-fast-track-fracking-107488 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Fracking1_130603_LW.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois came a giant step closer to approving the nation&#39;s strictest regulations for high-volume oil and gas drilling on Friday, as lawmakers approved a measure they hoped would create thousands of jobs in economically depressed areas of southern Illinois.</p><p>The Senate passed the legislation 52-3, one day after it was overwhelmingly approved in the other chamber. Gov. Pat Quinn promised to sign it, calling the legislation a &quot;shot in the arm for many communities.&quot;</p><p>The legislation was crafted with the help of industry and some environmental groups &mdash; an unusual collaboration that has been touted as a potential model for other states.</p><p>Legislation sponsor Mike Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, said stakeholders &quot;sat down for hundreds and thousands of hours&quot; to hammer out the issue.</p><p>&quot;These are tough regulations that are going to protect and preserve our most valuable resources in our state,&quot; he told floor members. &quot;We are going to increase home produced energy in our state in one of the most environmentally friendly ways possible.&quot;<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F95291584" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>While proponents have said hydraulic fracturing, or &quot;fracking,&quot; would generate tens of thousands of jobs, opponents have been pushing for a two-year moratorium to allow more time to examine health and environmental impact. They are worried fracking could cause pollution and deplete water resources.</p><p>&quot;This bill was written by industry and parties that have a vested interest,&quot; said Annette McMichael, a property owner in Johnson County who belongs to a coalition that opposes fracking. &quot;We have no say in our own water. ... We are totally helpless.&quot;</p><p>Despite the numerous protests by her group, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, and others &mdash; one woman was forcibly removed from the House chamber on Thursday after the vote &mdash; there was little opposition to the measure on the floor. Senators on both sides of the aisle praised the compromise.</p><p>&quot;This could be a bright economic future for many, many Illinoisans,&quot; said Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican.</p><p>Fracking uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals are used to crack rock formations deep underground and release oil and natural gas.</p><p>Among the provisions in the proposed legislation are requirements that drillers disclose the chemicals they use and that they test water before and after fracking. Companies also would be liable for any water pollution, and citizens could sue independently of state enforcement.</p><p>Sen. Mattie Hunter, who was among the few who voted against the legislation, said in a statement that the state should &quot;halt fracking practices and allow for a task force to complete concrete, comprehensive evaluation of this highly controversial industry moving further.&quot; The Chicago Democrat had introduced a measure that would put a temporary ban on the practice, but two bills proposing a moratorium never gained sufficient traction.</p><p>Sen. Sue Rezin, a Morris Republican described the legislation as having &quot;the highest environmental regulations in the entire country.&quot;</p><p>Energy companies are eyeing the New Albany shale formation in southern Illinois, where they believe there are significant oil reserves 5,000 feet or more below the surface. But actual drilling isn&rsquo;t likely to start for at least a few months, as the first step for potential drillers is a registration and permit application process that could take months. The process includes 30 days for public comment and public hearings if requested.</p><p>After approval, the permitting process requires water quality monitoring and careful controls on the storage and shipment of fracking-related materials and waste, and imposes criminal and civil penalties for violations of the law. The bill also allows for citizens&rsquo; suits against drillers who violate regulations.</p><p>A recent report found fracking is already underway in Illinois, even in the absence of such regulation.</p><p>Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that&rsquo;s among the reasons why NRDC supported regulation over no action at all.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re moving from essentially an unregulated situation where Illinois Department of Natural Resources had very little ability to structure what would happen in the state on fracking,&rdquo; said Henderson. Now, his concern is with the IDNR&rsquo;s ability to oversee the complex permitting process provided for by the new law.</p><p>&ldquo;There are important technical issues, there are important procedural issues,&rdquo; said Henderson, for which IDNR will need additional staff and resources. IDNR director Marc Miller said the agency is planning to hire 53 new people, and begin the permitting process in a matter of months.</p><p>&quot;This agency, and the Quinn administration, takes very seriously our responsibility for stewardship and for environmental protection,&quot; Miller said.</p><p>But some argue that even with tight regulation, fracking is likely to harm the environment and human health and enforcement will be difficult.</p><p>&ldquo;Our colleagues in Pennsylvania have seen nearby residents getting sick from this dirty drilling, have seen water supplies contaminated, have seen landscapes and forests devastated,&rdquo; said John Rumpler of Environment Illinois. A recent report from Pennsylvania found thousands of violations of the state&rsquo;s regulations on hydraulic fracturing from 2008-2011, many with immediate environmental consequences.</p><p>While the measure passed easily in both chambers, the road there wasn&#39;t easy. An amendment requiring energy companies to hire a state-licensed water well driller delayed the vote for more than a month before industry and unions reached a compromise that gives drillers a break on extraction taxes if at least half of their employees are from Illinois.</p><p>Opponents say the regulatory legislation would leave Illinois communities with no control over the practice.</p><p>But others felt it was the best the state could do. State Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat said it was &quot;about as good of a regulatory bill as we could offer.&quot;</p><p>&quot;God willing,&quot; Harmon said, &quot;it&#39;s good enough.&quot;</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Fellow. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.&nbsp;The Associated Press contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Mon, 03 Jun 2013 08:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bill-passage-illinois-fast-track-fracking-107488 Two films on toxic waste to show for free in Pullman http://www.wbez.org/two-films-toxic-waste-show-free-pullman-107453 <p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-68de2510-faec-eab6-745f-58bacfb6f942"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Pullman%20film_130531_LW.jpg" style="float: right; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="Pullman Factory, Administration Building. The Pullman State Historic Site includes multiple relics of the area’s former industry. (Flickr/UIC Digital Collections)" />Two new films about toxic waste are coming to Chicago&rsquo;s Pullman district Saturday for a free screening dubbed &ldquo;The Unnatural Natural.&rdquo;</p><p>Sarah Kanouse, an artist and professor at the University of Iowa, says she created the film <a href="http://www.readysubjects.org/aco/index.html" target="_blank">Around Crab Orchard</a> to raise questions.</p><p>&ldquo;What is nature, what is our relationship to nature?&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;How can we wrap our heads around contaminated nature?&rdquo;</p><p>Kanouse&rsquo;s questions aren&rsquo;t idle. Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in southern Illinois has been home to munitions manufacturers and other industries since WWII, and the site is now <a href="http://www.fws.gov/midwest/craborchardcleanup/" target="_blank">severely polluted</a> and home to a <a href="http://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/mar/" target="_blank">federal prison</a>. It remains a federally-managed site for recreation and for the protection of native species&rsquo;. The image of this toxic wildlife refuge, packed with contradiction, fascinated Kanouse.</p><p>She says sites like these reveal nature as something humans &ldquo;co-create,&rdquo; that is not separate from us.</p><p>&ldquo;We have to do something with the forms of nature that we produce, even if they are damaged,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Damaged natural areas are a familiar sight in the Chicago region, from <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-would-chicago-look-if-settlers-hadn%E2%80%99t-changed-it-105902" target="_blank">Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie</a> (a former Superfund cleanup site) to the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/calumet-brain-trust-tackles-environmental-issues-across-state-line" target="_blank">Calumet Core</a>, an area of the South Side and Northwest Indiana that&rsquo;s littered with contamination sites from abandoned industries, and with efforts to restore open space. The <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/pullman-district-pushing-national-historical-park-status-104220" target="_blank">Pullman State Historic Site</a>&nbsp;is another location of contaminated and abandoned industrial land struggling to remake itself in a new economy. The old factory area is now home to a bird oasis and gardens.</p><p>Kanouse calls her film an &ldquo;essay&rdquo; rather than a documentary, and an essay in the traditional sense of the French essai: an attempt, a raising of questions without clear answers. The process of creating the film, she said, only raised more questions.</p><p>&ldquo;What other kinds of political, social and environmental questions can we start considering if we get beyond this idea that nature is this pristine thing out there, and we realize that it&rsquo;s actually quite intimate?&rdquo; she said.</p><p>The other film, <a href="http://yuccamtntally.com/" target="_blank">Yucca Mtn Tally </a>by Phoebe Brush, calls itself a &ldquo;desert meditation&rdquo; on the storage of nuclear waste.</p><p>Yucca Mtn Tally (2013, 21 min., DVD projection) and Around Crab Orchard (2013, 69 min., DVD projection) are showing at <a href="http://southsideprojections.org/2013/05/the-unnatural-natural-two-films-about-environmental-hazard/" target="_blank">2pm, Saturday, June 1 at the Pullman State Historic Site</a>,11057 S. Cottage Grove Ave. (enter on Cottage Grove). The free screening is a project of <a href="http://southsideprojections.org/" target="_blank">South Side Projections</a>.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 31 May 2013 09:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/two-films-toxic-waste-show-free-pullman-107453 Cleaning up Chicago’s wide, romantic beaches http://www.wbez.org/news/cleaning-chicago%E2%80%99s-wide-romantic-beaches-106646 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Big Beach_130413_LW.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Volunteers for an Adopt-A-Beach program are headed to Chicago-area beaches to clean up trash and debris starting this weekend.</p><p>And those beaches are bigger than usual this year due to record-low water levels over the winter. After hitting an all-time low in January, <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lre.usace.army.mil%2FPortals%2F69%2Fdocs%2FGreatLakesInfo%2Fdocs%2FWaterLevels%2FMBOGLWL-mich_hrn.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNE4Qjw4VJAZiS-qhFAjtD7c1NSWQg" target="_blank">Lake Michigan is creeping back up</a>, but U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projections show the lake could still dip below its 1965 low water records without a lot of rain.</p><p>That said, it&rsquo;s been raining a decent amount this week, which has a different potential consequence for beach sweepers: combined sewer overflow and runoff can mean more trash along the shoreline.</p><p>Louise Kulaga, an eighth-grade science teacher at Gurrie Middle School in LaGrange, is taking a group of middle-schoolers to clean up 12th Street Beach and North Avenue Beach this spring. Cleanups involve picking up trash, recycling, conducting basic sampling and testing for bacteria in the water. Shallow waters along the shore could lead to higher bacteria counts this summer.</p><p>Kulaga says the low water means a wider beach, but not necessarily more trash. That depends on weather conditions, and how recently there&rsquo;s been a beach party. In past years, she and her students have already seen a lot.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s always some little bit of drug paraphernalia here and there,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And diapers. The back seats of a car. A totem pole, a piece of a totem pole.&rdquo;</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not even the best of it. A couple years ago they found a green wine bottle with a message in it. Kulaga convinced the principal, who was out with the group, to be the one to read the message to the kids. She was a little worried about what it might say. But it turned out to be rated PG, PG-13 at worst.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a little dramatic, it was about someone breaking up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, we couldn&rsquo;t quite tell,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And they were purging their feelings into Lake Michigan.&rdquo;</p><p>Teams of volunteers will start combing Chicago&rsquo;s wide, romantic beaches this weekend; anyone interested can join in public cleanups through the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.greatlakesadopt.org%2F&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNG8kms7Mz7GE9u2A9lGXQazge3E9w" target="_blank">Great Lakes Alliance</a>.</p><p>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</p></p> Sat, 13 Apr 2013 08:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cleaning-chicago%E2%80%99s-wide-romantic-beaches-106646