WBEZ | Environment http://www.wbez.org/sections/environment Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Looking out for climate change in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/looking-out-climate-change-chicago-109968 <p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: <a href="#event">Key interviews that contributed to this story</a> about climate change and the future of Chicago were first presented during <a href="#event">The Raw Report,</a>&nbsp;a live media event co-produced by WBEZ and <a href="http://www.prairie.org/programs/public-square" target="_blank">The Public Square</a>, a program of the Illinois Humanities Council.&nbsp;</em></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20family%20photo.jpg" style="height: 267px; width: 200px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="Mark Mesle, center, asked his question out of concern for his family, including wife Abby and daughter Parker. (Photo courtesy of Mark Mesle)" />Some people find it hard to get worked up about the fate of future generations. But Mark Mesle, who came to Curious City with a big question about climate change, has no problem putting a face on future environmental anxieties.</p><p>Her name is Parker. She&rsquo;s Mark&rsquo;s 18-month-old daughter. He and his wife Abbey have another kid on the way, and it got him wondering:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How will climate change impact Chicago?</em></p><p>Mark runs a website, <a href="http://www.50yearforecast.org" target="_blank">www.50yearforecast.org</a>, devoted to raising awareness on climate change, so he&rsquo;s no stranger to the topic. What he asked us for was a higher-resolution picture of the problem: a better understanding of how greenhouse gases might change life for his kids here in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;You always see 2100 projections,&rdquo; said Mark, who is 33 years old. &ldquo;How about 2045, when my daughter is my age?&rdquo;</p><p>Mark wants to know what kind of world his kids will grow up in, so understandably he asked for a high degree of detail.</p><p>&ldquo;Do the Cubs not play August games anymore?&rdquo; he asked, for example.</p><p>But here&rsquo;s the thing: Mark&rsquo;s asking for something that we don&#39;t have a clear answer for, according to Liz Moyer, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry and transport at the University of Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;We know physically that climate change will happen. We know geologically what&rsquo;s happened to species in the past,&rdquo; Moyer said. &ldquo;How do you turn that into saying, &lsquo;It&rsquo;s going to cost this much, it&rsquo;ll change our economy in this way.&rsquo; That&rsquo;s something we&rsquo;ve had trouble doing, and the economic models are set up to reflect that.&rdquo;</p><p>The basic science is settled. Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, most notably) trap heat within the atmosphere, causing a global temperature rise. As it gets warmer, sea level rises due to the physical expansion of heated water and melting ice around the globe.</p><p>What all this means for Chicago is harder to say &mdash; the<a href="http://www.ipcc-data.org/guidelines/pages/gcm_guide.html" target="_blank"> climate models scientist use don&#39;t provide that kind of resolution</a>. But the situation could be improving. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/19/climate-data-initiative-launches-strong-public-and-private-sector-commitments" target="_blank">In March the federal government announced</a> it would release data from NOAA, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Defense, and other Federal agencies on its website, climate.data.gov, <a href="http://resilience.maps.arcgis.com/home/" target="_blank">to help cities and regions plan</a> for climate change. The <a href="http://www.sws.uiuc.edu/warm/cdflist.asp?typ=a" target="_blank">Illinois Climate Network&#39;s data</a> is part of that growing cache of information.</p><p>Globally, though, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942" target="_blank">scientists are concerned</a>. A<a href="http://whatweknow.aaas.org/" target="_blank"> report issued March 18</a> by the American Association for the Advancement of Science warns, &ldquo;We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.&rdquo;</p><p>So, if we won&rsquo;t be able to give a foolproof picture of what Chicago&rsquo;s climate will be like in 2045, is there any insight we could send Mark&rsquo;s way?</p><p>It turns out there is.</p><p>We found scientists, economists, activists and Chicago officials who are on the lookout for local effects of climate change. While none gives a full-blown prediction, each identifies which areas of life &mdash; the local economy, the lake, whatever &mdash; are most vulnerable and why Mark (and the rest of us) should consider them.</p><p><strong>What&rsquo;s on Chicago&rsquo;s radar</strong></p><p>The city <a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/climate_change_and_chicago/5.php" target="_blank">laid out what it knows</a> in its<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/research___reports/8.php" target="_blank"> Climate Action Plan</a>, which was adopted in 2008. City Hall has three main concerns:<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/temperature/20.php" target="_blank"> it will get hotter</a>, exacerbating<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/weary-high-chicago-asthma-rates-some-lobby-washington-107461" target="_blank"> problems with air quality</a> and perhaps making<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/consecutive-days-warm-temperatures-could-break-1995-record-97332" target="_blank"> deadly heat waves</a> stronger and/or more common;<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/precipitation/21.php" target="_blank"> flooding could get worse</a> as intense<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174" target="_blank"> rainstorms become more common</a>, further burdening<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731" target="_blank"> an already swollen sewer system</a>; and<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/ecosystems/22.php" target="_blank"> Chicago&#39;s native ecosystems could change</a>, forcing farmers, gardeners and landscapers to change their habits.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/THUMB%20flickr%20seth%20anderson%20-%20possible%20thumb.jpg" style="float: right; height: 260px; width: 325px; margin: 5px;" title="The Fisk generating plant in Chicago was closed in 2012. (FLickr/Seth Anderson)" />High school students at Robert Lindblom Math &amp; Science Academy in the West Englewood neighborhood are working on that last problem, studying which tree species are best suited to a warmer climate. So Parker Mesle and her forthcoming sibling will likely plant different saplings than her father, our question asker.</p><p>In the future there might be less Lake Michigan than Mark&rsquo;s used to, if <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262" target="_blank">a trend toward low lake levels</a> continues. On average, warmer average temperatures should mean less ice cover during winter, which means the Great Lakes may evaporate faster than they&rsquo;re recharged. That could change coastal ecosystems <a href="http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/low-waters-and-high-anxiety/?_php=true&amp;_type=blogs&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">and hurt the lucrative shipping industry</a> in the region, which <a href="http://www.marad.dot.gov/documents/US-Flag_Great_Lakes_Water_Transportation_Industry_Final_Report_2013.pdf" target="_top">the U.S. Department of Transportation says</a> supplies $14.1 billion in annual income to U.S. citizens, and $33.6 billion in annual U.S. business revenues.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s thinking through effects of climate change that may not be so dire, however. If Mark&rsquo;s kids choose to live in Chicago, they could have plenty of company. That&rsquo;s because, under some scenarios, transportation (especially forms that involve climate-changing fossil fuels) could become more expensive, making life in the dense, urban core more attractive.</p><p>Chicago is thinking through encouraging or adapting to higher residential density, and strategies include everything from neighborhood walkability to <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/city_sustainability_is_about_t.html" target="_blank">historic preservation and affordable housing</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;If you think big picture, a lot of this is about creating a really livable, really competitive and really livable city,&rdquo; said Karen Weigert, Chicago&rsquo;s chief sustainability officer. She said urbanites have a lower per capita carbon footprint than those in less densely populated communities, which tend to have higher transportation emissions.</p><p>&ldquo;Living in an urban environment, as a start,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;is actually a pretty good climate choice.&rdquo; <a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6218" target="_blank">Even suburbs are starting to reinvest in transit-oriented development</a> and walkability&mdash;characteristics traditionally associated with inner cities. Reducing the distance people need to travel reduces their fuel use, which can save <a href="http://www.nhc.org/media/documents/pub_heavy_load_10_06.pdf" target="_blank">money as well as greenhouse gas emissions</a>. So it&rsquo;s likely Mark&rsquo;s kids will have more transit options (not to mention <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/54-mpg-argonne-natl-lab-wins-grant-fuel-efficiency-research-90433" target="_blank">more fuel-efficient vehicles</a>) wherever they decide to live.</p><p><strong>Knocking on Chicago&rsquo;s door?</strong></p><p>But what if rising seas in Florida and New York &mdash; let alone Bangladesh &mdash; send &ldquo;climate refugees&rdquo; flocking to Chicago? This is an example of an indirect &ldquo;knock-on&rdquo; effect of climate change that came up during <a href="#event">our panel discussion </a>in February. As University of Chicago Law Professor David Weisbach said, however, the Chicago area might be well-positioned to handle newcomers and other unforeseen impacts.</p><p>&ldquo;We have a temperate environment. We have a highly diversified economy &mdash; it&rsquo;s not dependent on any one sector. We have a stable fresh water supply,&rdquo; Weisbach said. &ldquo;If you think about what the effects of climate change will be in Chicago, it&rsquo;s going to be the knock-on effects. We&rsquo;re connected to the rest of the world, and what matters to the rest of the world matters to us. That will affect us potentially very, very deeply.&rdquo;</p><p>When we try to figure out what those potential impacts will be, we&rsquo;re inevitably speculating about the ability of our city to respond to change. One key problem with that is our ability to cope with challenges isn&rsquo;t uniform. Poorer communities, or those with less political clout, get passed over.</p><p>That&rsquo;s true in Chicago,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/qa-kim-wasserman-little-villages-coal-crusader-106742" target="_blank"> according to Kimberly Wasserman Nieto</a>, who is executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. During <a href="#event">our event in February</a>, she said sustainability efforts need to address communities all around the city &mdash; not just on the North Side.</p><p>&ldquo;If it&rsquo;s about saving the butterflies and building green streets in Lincoln Park, that&rsquo;s great for them,&rdquo; Wasserman said, &ldquo;but what does that do for the people on the Southwest Side of Chicago?&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr%20rainforest%20action%20network.jpg" style="float: left; height: 222px; width: 335px; margin: 5px;" title="Activists from the Little Village Environmental Justice organization protested in 2011 against the Crawford coal plant, which closed in 2012 (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)" />She said local efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions can help marginalized communities take control of their future, possibly creating jobs in turn.</p><p>&ldquo;For us it&rsquo;s about showing how a local economy can help a community and how that in change can also help turn the impacts of climate change,&rdquo; Wasserman said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re working, breathing, living in our communities, fighting for our environment, and we want to showcase that bringing it local is really one of the only ways that we can save our environment.&rdquo;</p><p>Climate justice is a global issue, too, because the poorest countries also happen to be those that will get hit hardest by the effects of climate change. Countries in the tropics tend to have both fewer resources and far greater biodiversity than countries in temperate zones. Sea-level rise in Bangladesh alone<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/04/14/us-bangladesh-climate-islands-idUSDHA23447920080414" target="_blank"> is expected to displace tens of millions of people</a>.</p><p>Northwestern University Economist Benjamin Jones recently co-authored <a href="http://economics.mit.edu/files/9138" target="_blank">a study</a> examining the connection between severe weather and economic impacts. He and his colleagues found there&rsquo;s a surprisingly large range of possible economic outcomes.</p><p>&ldquo;For example, it&rsquo;s increasingly clear that when you have extreme heat in the U.S., that you see a large negative impact on agricultural output. It&rsquo;s increasingly clear that very high heat leads to at least temporary large spikes in mortality, especially among the very old and very young,&rdquo; Jones said. And, he said, it can impact economic growth on a large scale. With colleagues at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jones <a href="http://economics.mit.edu/files/9138" target="_blank">statistically analyzed the connection between severe weather, climate change and economic impacts</a>. One degree Celsius of warming could curb a country&rsquo;s growth by as much as one percentage point &mdash; a huge effect, considering the U.S. growth rate <a href="http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth" target="_blank">was around 3 percent in recent years</a>.</p><p><strong>Climate of opportunity</strong></p><p>But figuring out how to respond to change &mdash; what experts are calling climate &ldquo;resiliency&rdquo; &mdash; could create huge opportunities, too.</p><p>Jones said if Chicago innovates within the low-carbon tech sector, it can make money and jobs while coping with climate risk.</p><p>Chicago is<a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-19/changing-gears-will-advanced-batteries-charge-midwest-economy-93278" target="_blank"> the nation&rsquo;s hub for battery technology</a>. The<a href="about:blank" target="_blank"> wind energy industry is big here</a>, too, as is<a href="about:blank" target="_blank"> energy efficiency</a> and<a href="about:blank" target="_blank"> water technology</a>. Perhaps Mark Mesle&rsquo;s children will be among the scientists and engineers who will help us adapt to climate change.</p><p>&ldquo;Necessity is the mother of invention. We&rsquo;re already seeing a lot of innovation around clean energy, around agriculture,&rdquo; Jones said. &ldquo;If there is a lowest-cost way out, it will be that route.&rdquo;</p><p>Ultimately it&rsquo;s a question of managing short-term shocks and long-term changes. A short-term influx of climate refugees could be a good thing, providing skilled labor and boosting the local tax base. But too much too fast could overburden city services, especially if those services are already strained by severe weather.</p><p>In the six years since Chicago set out on its climate action agenda, the city has implemented a few notable initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ratepayers voted to buy power through municipal aggregation,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003" target="_blank"> which doubled the share of wind energy in the city&#39;s electricity supply</a>. That followed the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/activists-rejoice-coal-fired-plants-shut-down-102129" target="_blank"> closure of two coal-fired power plants on the Southwest Side</a> ahead of schedule. And last year Chicago<a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6798" target="_blank"> directed landlords of buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, which account for 15 percent of the city&rsquo;s total energy use, to report their energy consumption</a>. That&rsquo;s expected to improve the rate of energy efficiency improvements already hastened<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/env/retrofit_chicago.html" target="_blank"> by a slimmed-down approval process</a> for retrofits.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr%20steven%20vance.jpg" style="float: right; height: 289px; width: 385px; margin: 5px;" title="A stretch of Cermak Road in Chicago is meant to serve as a model for sustainable streetscape. (Flickr/Steven Vance) " />And parts of Chicago itself may look different for our question asker&rsquo;s children. Chicago has invested in green infrastructure, including<a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6409" target="_blank"> a stretch of Cermak Road meant to serve as a model for sustainable streetscapes</a>. With rain gardens and smog-eating pavement, Sustainability Chief Karen Weigert said &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the kind of infrastructure that will be strong and critically important going forward.&rdquo;</p><p>That project cost less than competing proposals, city officials said when it was announced in 2012, but not all climate resiliency infrastructure projects are easy sells. Potential costs are huge, but so are upfront investments.<a href="http://www.cnt.org/2013/05/14/urban-flooding-is-chronic-and-costly-but-not-correlated-with-floodplains/" target="_blank"> The Center for Neighborhood Technology found</a> floods cost Chicagoans $660 million between 2007 and 2011 (just based on insurance claims paid out), for example. But, as we learned from atmospheric chemist Liz Moyer, cash-strapped governments don&rsquo;t typically make major investments to fend off future pain that is <a href="http://www.cicero.uio.no/media/9411.pdf" target="_blank">inherently uncertain</a>.</p><p><strong>Global citizens</strong></p><p>Absent national movement on a carbon tax or trading scheme that might catalyze development for climate-resilient infrastructure, Chicago will probably continue to lean on its most reliable resource: its people. As Weigert said, the city&rsquo;s motto is <em>Urbs in Horto</em> &mdash; city in a garden.</p><p>And that city is increasingly connected to others around the world. Whether it&rsquo;s in response to business opportunities, climate refugees and other knock-on effects, or carbon emissions from around the globe, Chicago&rsquo;s going to change with the climate. Our question asker Mark Mesle hopes we&rsquo;ll rise to the occasion. So for the sake of his kids, he&rsquo;s urging action.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve sort of always felt there needs to be international cooperation,&rdquo; he said at <a href="#event">our panel event</a> in February. &ldquo;That doesn&rsquo;t happen unless U.S. politicians care about it, and U.S. politicians don&rsquo;t care about it unless you tell them to care about it.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City, and a freelance journalist. <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">Follow him on Twitter at @Cementley</a>.</p><p><strong><a name="event"></a>The Raw Report: An experiment in live media-making</strong></p><p><strong><iframe frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/29067314&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></strong></p><p>In February 2014, WBEZ and <a href="http://www.prairie.org/programs/public-square" target="_blank">The Public Square</a> (a program of the Illinois Humanities Council) co-produced &nbsp;&ldquo;The Raw Report,&quot; an experiment in live media-making. The event, held at the Jim &amp; Kay Mabie Studio at Chicago Public Media, included a <a href="#sources">panel of knowledgeable sources</a> that answered Mark Mesle&rsquo;s question in front of a live audience. Teams of young and newly-minted reporters interpreted that answer and created their own original audio presentations in real time, which they reported back to the audience.</p><p>Moderator Laura Washington led a follow-up discussion that explored questions such as: How do the stories generated by the teams of young reporters differ and why? How important is it to realize that each story we consume in media is only one of an infinite number of ways to tell that same story?</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="352" scrolling="no" src="http://files.slidemypics.com/app/js/iframe.html?bg_color=1f1f1f&amp;amp;hash=ab3ebd6dc91362591b5843aca1360030&amp;amp;r=0.32371021481230855" width="526"></iframe></p><address style="text-align: center;">(Full set of photos and more info in WBEZ&#39;s Flickr pool:&nbsp;<a href="http://wbez.is/1pXyf5r" target="_blank">http://wbez.is/1pXyf5r</a>)</address><p><strong><a name="sources"></a>Sincere thanks to our panelists:</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~moyer/MoyerWebsite/Home%20Page/HomePage.html" target="_blank">Elisabeth Moyer</a>, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Transport at the University of Chicago. Moyer&rsquo;s research explores climate modeling and impact assessment. As a researcher with the <a href="http://www.rdcep.org/" target="_blank">Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate &amp; Energy Policy</a> (RDCEP), she&rsquo;s interested in sizing up and dealing with the uncertainty involved with making climate change predictions &mdash; case in point, a recent paper, &ldquo;<a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2312770" target="_blank">Climate Impacts on Economic Growth as Drivers of Uncertainty in the Social Cost of Carbon</a>.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Kimberly Wasserman Nieto, executive director, <a href="http://lvejo.org/" target="_blank">Little Village Environmental Justice Organization</a>. She&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/news/activists-rejoice-coal-fired-plants-shut-down-102129" target="_blank">led the charge to close Midwest Generation&rsquo;s Crawford coal plant in her Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, as well as the Fisk power plant in Pilsen</a> &mdash; an effort for which she <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/news/chicago-activist-wins-goldman-environmental-prize-106645" target="_blank">won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize</a> in 2013. LVEJO&rsquo;s success has been recognized worldwide, but Wasserman says the attention has only sharpened her focus on environmental justice in Chicago.</p><p><a href="http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/weisbach" target="_blank">David Weisbach</a>, Walter J. Blum Professor of Law and Senior Fellow, the Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. Trained as a mathematician and lawyer, Weisbach is primarily interested in issues relating to federal taxation and to climate change.</p><p><strong>Thanks, too, to our teams of journalists, who represented the following organizations:</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.chicagoreporter.com/" target="_blank">The Chicago Reporter</a>: An investigative news organization that identifies, analyzes, and reports on the social, economic, and political issues of metropolitan Chicago with a focus on race and poverty.</p><p><a href="http://themash.com/" target="_blank">The Mash</a>: A weekly newspaper and website written largely by, for, and about Chicago high school students.</p><p><a href="http://www.freespiritmedia.org/" target="_blank">Free Spirit Media</a>: An organization that provides education, access, and opportunity in media production to underserved urban youth.</p><p><a href="http://www.karilydersen.com/teaching.html" target="_blank">The Social Justice Chicago Reporting Fellowship program</a>&nbsp;at Northwestern University&rsquo;s Medill School of Journalism</p><p><a href="http://www.colum.edu/Academics/Journalism/" target="_blank">Columbia College Journalism Department</a></p><p><strong>Thanks to our partner for the Raw Report:&nbsp;</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.prairie.org/programs/public-square" target="_blank">The Public Square</a>&nbsp;is a program of the Illinois Humanities Council.&nbsp;</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/IHC-Logo_Color_Plain.jpg" style="margin: 5px; height: 89px; width: 400px;" title="" /></div></p> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 19:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/looking-out-climate-change-chicago-109968 Emanuel wants answers on BP oil spill http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-wants-answers-bp-oil-spill-109925 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Whiting-spill.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Although BP&rsquo;s Whiting refinery is a short distance from the city of Chicago, it is firmly in the state of Indiana and answers to that state and its agencies. But that&rsquo;s not stopping Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from asking for a full report on this week&rsquo;s oil spill to be given to the city and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll expect a full accounting to the public and the city of Chicago of the damage that was done, how much, what the clean up efforts were, how comprehensive they have been and what actions the company will take to ensure this doesn&rsquo;t happen again,&rdquo; Emanuel said Wednesday while announcing a plan to invest $671 million to upgrade the city&rsquo;s water infrastructure.</p><p>A BP spokesman said this week it appears crude oil somehow seeped into the refinery&#39;s water filtration plant that&rsquo;s adjacent to the lake. Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesman Dan Goldblatt told WBEZ Wednesday that unconfirmed reports put the amount of spillage at about a dozen barrels of crude oil.</p><p>BP has raised its estimate of how much oil spilled into Lake Michigan. The company said Thursday a preliminary estimate shows between 15 and 39 barrels of oil have been recovered from the lake at its Whiting refinery.</p><p>A barrel of oil can produce about 42 gallons of gasoline, so potentially 1,638 gallons of oil spilled into Lake Michigan. Earlier estimates had pegged the amount at 10 to 12 barrels of oil.</p><p>The spill was detected around 4:30 p.m. Monday. By 9 p.m. a representative with the U.S. EPA said it appeared the leak had been stopped. Cleanup continued Wednesday along the shore of a small private beach between the refinery and its neighbor ArcelorMittal Steel Company.</p><p>&ldquo;BP continues to make progress in responding to an incident Monday at the Whiting Refinery. Crews have recovered the vast majority of oil that had been visible on the surface of a cove-like area of Lake Michigan and on the shoreline between the refinery and a nearby steel mill,&rdquo; BP announced Wednesday from its US Press Office based in Houston. &ldquo;They have used vacuum trucks and absorbent boom to contain and clean up the surface oil. Responders also manually collected oil that had reached the shore.&rdquo;</p><p>BP said monitoring continues with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.</p><p>&ldquo;BP and federal agencies are assessing the shoreline to determine what, if any, next steps are required in the response,&rdquo; a company statement said. &ldquo;BP continues to work to calculate the amount of oil discharged into the lake. This work involves estimating how much oil was released into the refinery&rsquo;s cooling water system, water treatment plant and ultimately into the lake.&rdquo;</p><p>According to the U.S. EPA, its Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team inspected the shoreline today for three hours to assess the presence of oil and to recommend cleanup techniques as required.</p><p>&ldquo;The team saw minimal oiling of the shoreline and recommended a small manual removal crew conduct maintenance along the shoreline,&rdquo; the U.S. EPA said in a news release. &ldquo;Weather and wind conditions improved overnight allowing teams to once again secure boom.&rdquo;</p><p>Sources involved in the cleanup say the crude oil that spilled into the lake was a combination of so-called sweet crude (from domestic sources) and crude from Canada&rsquo;s Tar Sands region, which is considered heavier and dirtier. The tar sands oil is a source of contention among environmentalists.</p><p>&ldquo;A spill like this one, whether big or small, will continue to garner national headlines. And that is the sort of behavior that will keep BP Whiting the refinery Chicagoans love to hate,&rdquo; Henry Henderson, Midwest program director of the Chicago office for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog post.</p><p>So far, no Indiana or Northwest Indiana public official have made statements regarding the spill. BP represents a major source of jobs and property taxes for Northwest Indiana, and the company just recently completed a $4 billion modernization of the more than 100 year old Whiting refinery.<br /><br />But BP often has been on the receiving end of scathing comments by Illinois officials.</p><p>Lately, Mayor Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin have taken the company to task for transporting thousands of tons of pet coke, short for petroleum coke, to a site on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast side. Residents there have complained about the dust-like substance making them sick when it becomes airborne.<br /><br />Some city officials want the substance completely banned though so far Emanuel is only pushing an ordinance that would severely restrict the use and storage of pet coke. But with the new oil spill BP is under the microscope again.</p><p>&ldquo;I want to make sure that BP is a good corporate citizen next door in Indiana,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>And, at least for now, BP is responding.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been engaged with the mayor&rsquo;s office since the onset of this incident and are providing his office with regular updates, &ldquo; BP spokesman Scott Dean told WBEZ Wednesday night. &ldquo;We will also continue to keep the public and relevant authorities informed as we investigate this matter.&rdquo;</p><p><em>This post was updated on March 28, 2014.</em></p></p> Thu, 27 Mar 2014 08:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-wants-answers-bp-oil-spill-109925 BP contains oil spill in Lake Michigan, begins cleanup http://www.wbez.org/news/bp-contains-oil-spill-lake-michigan-begins-cleanup-109914 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/puente whiting.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>WHITING, Ind. &mdash; BP says it has contained and is now cleaning up crude oil that spilled into Lake Michigan&nbsp; from its Whiting, Indiana refinery near Chicago.</p><p>The spill was detected about 4:30 Monday afternoon.</p><p>Reminiscent of the tar balls collected off the Gulf Coast after a different BP spill a few years ago, this one was confined to a shallow cove between the massive refinery and a steel mill.</p><p>BP spokesman Scott Dean said it appears the crude oil somehow seeped into the refinery&#39;s water filtration plant adjacent to the lake.</p><p>&ldquo;We were able to quickly deploy our oil spill response contractor and we&rsquo;ve seen the leak stopped yesterday and we&rsquo;ve got a containment boom in place that&rsquo;s holding the amount of oil that was released from the discharge into this cove,&rdquo; Dean said.</p><p>Dean said there have been no injuries, and cleanup activities along the 2,700 feet of affected shore line are still going on.</p><p>&ldquo;The good news is the leak stopped and we&rsquo;ve got it contained,&rdquo; Dean said.</p><p>Dean said the cold temperature of the lake and air may have actually aided in containing the oil, turning the crude oil into like a gel-like substance.</p><p>But questions remain about how the crude oil got into the lake in the first place.</p><p>BP just completed a $4 billion modernization to the 100-year-old Whiting Refinery, the largest inland refinery in the United States.</p><p>Sources helping with the cleanup estimate about a dozen barrels of crude spilled into the lake, with some containing what&rsquo;s considered sweet crude oil and some containing oil from Canada&rsquo;s tar sands region.</p><p>After discovering the discharge, BP notified the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Representatives from the agencies were at the refinery Monday evening.</p><p>BP says it will continue to work in full cooperation with the agencies to ensure the protection of personnel, the environment and surrounding communities.</p><p>The U.S. EPA says is unaware of any other spills from the refinery.</p><p>Mike Beslow, the onsite coordinator for the EPA at the scene, said the oil spill should not affect the quality of Lake Michigan&rsquo;s drinking water.</p><p>He says it appears the oil was released from one of BP&rsquo;s separators into the lake.</p><p>Beslow says the separator is like a holding pond and normally does not have oil in it.<br />He adds that BP&rsquo;s own systems immediately detected oil that got into the water filtration plant and into the lake.</p><p>Beslow says it&rsquo;s too early to determine if any fines will be assessed against BP for the spill.</p></p> Tue, 25 Mar 2014 13:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bp-contains-oil-spill-lake-michigan-begins-cleanup-109914 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 Are Chicagoans the toughest big city dwellers in the nation? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagoans-toughest-big-city-dwellers-nation-109816 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/EXTREME WEATHER.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>During this season of multiple polar vortices, we Chicagoans have been told more than once to suck it up. My Canadian and Minnesotan colleagues claim this is &ldquo;no big deal&rdquo; where they come from.</p><p>&ldquo;Welcome to my winter,&rdquo; they scoff, pulling on industrial-sized parkas and marching into the snow.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>I silently endured their scoffing while secretly plotting to prove that we native Chicagoans are not weather wimps at all -- but just the opposite. It&#39;s my contention that while we may not embrace the Inuit lifestyles, Chicagoans have to work and live through more weather extremes than probably anybody.</p><p>And we have the potholes to prove it.</p><p>After surviving this wretched winter, for example, we may face summer temps that exceed 100 degrees for days in a row.</p><p>Certainly, we must get the worst of it on both ends, making us the toughest people in the nation. Right? Probably.</p><p>This would require some reporting.</p><p>Barbara Mayes Bousted, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Omaha, Neb., recently created the <a href="https://ams.confex.com/ams/93Annual/webprogram/Paper218513.html" target="_blank">Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index</a>. Using factors such as temperature and precipitation, it basically measures how miserable winter has been for communities across the country this year and beyond.</p><p>Unfortunately, it is not exactly what is needed, because I am looking for misery on both ends of the temperature spectrum.<br /><br />&ldquo;That&rsquo;s an interesting puzzle to piece together, to figure out the range of extremes all the way from the heat to the cold,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But the index that I&rsquo;m using doesn&rsquo;t account for how far we go to the other end, the warm side.&rdquo;</p><p>She and colleagues pointed to everyone from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to scholars to WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling. All were super nice, but none could answer this question of overall toughness.&nbsp;</p><p>Just when the search seemed like it hit a dead end, I stumbled on<a href="http://www.city-data.com/top2/toplists2.html"> Citydata.com.</a> It cranks out all sorts of Top 101 city lists by crunching statistics in a variety of categories. These include lowest average temperature, highest average snowfall, coldest winters and -- YES! -- largest annual temperature differences in cities with populations above 50,000.</p><p>Certainly, Chicago would top this this, right?</p><p>Well, not on the face of it.<br /><br />The list led with Grand Forks in North Dakota, followed by a bunch of towns in that state, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin. Then finally Illinois, whose most extreme weather town (with over 50,000 people) is Rockford (No. 41), followed by Hoffman Estates (No. 43). Chicago didn&rsquo;t show up til No. 66.</p><p>Why is Hoffman Estates, in the northwest suburbs, so much colder than Chicago? That&rsquo;s a story for another day.</p><p>I decided that this list was crowded up with too many small towns. The target was metropolitan cities whose residents have to venture miles to work or school each day -- no matter what cruel joke Mother Nature served up.</p><p>So I narrowed it to cities with more than 250,000 residents. On this list, Chicago soars to sixth place. Only Minneapolis and its twin city St. Paul, Omaha, Milwaukee, and Kansas City beat us in temperature differences in an average year.</p><p>But how much time do these other urbanites really expose themselves to frosty or broiling transit platforms or street corners to get where they need to go each day?</p><p>The data on public transportation usage showed that only pesky Minneapolis bested us here. It seems that 14.4 percent of them take the bus or trolley to work, while we check in at 13 percent.&nbsp;</p><p>But when we added in the share of people who take the subway or elevated train to work each day, Chicago (at 9.7 percent) pulled ahead.</p><p>It is true that Minneapolis doesn&#39;t really have a subway or el system to help them on that list. &nbsp;But I think we win fair and square.</p><p>Still, some folks from the Twin Cities disagree.</p><p>To Lynette Kalsnes, my fellow WBEZ producer, our winters hardly compare to the those of her Twin Cities youth. &ldquo;I laugh at the very idea,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been in Chicago for 12 or 13 years and this is the first winter that has approximated anything like Minnesota.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Still, she acknowledges that our summers are&nbsp; pretty brutal, even though folks in Minneapolis also get hit with high temperatures, copious mosquitoes, and humidity.</p><p>But how can they say they&rsquo;re tough when they have those skyways between buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re only using that if you work in downtown Minneapolis to get from your job to get your lunch,&rdquo; Kalsnes parried. &ldquo;But you&rsquo;re outside the rest of the time. It&rsquo;s not like the whole state is a pedestrian mall.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s clear that these arguments could go on forever. But as one colleague pointed out, it is a little weird that we would engage in a debate over whose city serves up the most misery.</p><p>And yes, you could look at it that way. Or you could say that these debates really reflect how much we must love our cities in order to endure such extremes.</p><p>You could also say that these extremes make us all the more grateful for good weather.&nbsp;</p><p>As Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said, &ldquo;I think that no one appreciates a perfect, beautiful, summer, spring, fall, or even winter day more than a Minnesotan.&rdquo;</p><p>Well, we could offer a debate on that, but I think we should &nbsp;just call it a draw. That is because, even though Chicagoans are tough, we&rsquo;re also a very generous people.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em> podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a> or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 16:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagoans-toughest-big-city-dwellers-nation-109816 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 Pet coke only the latest pollution threat on the Southeast side http://www.wbez.org/news/pet-coke-only-latest-pollution-threat-southeast-side-109811 <p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to introduce an ordinance Wednesday calling for stricter controls over petroleum coke, aka pet coke. It comes a day after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a new lawsuit against KCBX, a company that stores pet coke on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast Side.</p><p>Many residents there believe the giant piles of pet coke along the Calumet River have had an adverse effect on their health. But some officials say pet coke is only the tip of the ash heap when it comes to industrial pollution in the area and the respiratory problems it may cause.</p><p>Problems such as asthma, which can be a nagging health issue for some, but is a life-threatening condition for Liz Martin.</p><p>&ldquo;I take medication every day to help control it but when it gets really bad then there&rsquo;s different medications and machines that I have to take for like immediate care but there&rsquo;s like controller medications that I have to take everyday for who knows how long,&rdquo; says the 21-year-old Martin, who&rsquo;s studying computer science at Saint Xavier University Chicago.</p><p>And while most Chicagoans can&rsquo;t wait for winter to be over, Liz knows warmer temps could make things worse.<br /><br />&ldquo;When the weather starts getting better and the winds start picking up, I get flu, colds, pneumonia, everything. My allergies just go crazy and I don&rsquo;t know how to handle it. It&rsquo;s not something that medication can really handle,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Beyond the weather, there&rsquo;s another problem. Liz and her mother Lilly live just a few blocks from KCBX&rsquo;s pet coke storage site along the Calumet River.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Beyond%20Pet%20coke%203.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; width: 233px; height: 310px;" title="Liz and Lilly Martin at their Southeast Chicago home. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)" />That&rsquo;s where this whole controversy started last August when high winds caused the pet coke to blow all over the neighborhood. Caught on video, the black dust-like substance looked like a swarm of locusts.</p><p>Pet coke isn&rsquo;t new to this area. It&rsquo;s been used for decades by local steel mills. In fact, Lilly Martin remembers gathering it in buckets for her parents who used it as dirt.</p><p>&ldquo;At that time, we used to walk by the bridge and we would get it but we never knew that pet coke was bad, and we would get it,&rdquo; Lilly Martin said. &ldquo;Maybe that&rsquo;s why my mom and dad, they were young, they died 65, 60.&rdquo;</p><p>Martin is one of several Southeast Side residents suing KCBX for creating a health hazard and diminishing property values. Meanwhile, politicians are tripping over themselves to show support for the residents of this often neglected corner of the city.</p><p>Those who have paid a visit in recent weeks include Illinois U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.</p><p>Mayor Emanuel also visited in January.</p><p>Today, he&rsquo;s expected to formally introduce an ordinance to prevent any new or expanded pet coke operations in the city.&nbsp;</p><p>That could directly affect KCBX, which has been in the city for 20 years although it only acquired its facility near the 106th Street Bridge in December 2012. The company has a contract with oil giant BP&rsquo;s nearby Whiting, Indiana refinery to store the pet coke before it is transported overseas.</p><p>Facing litigation and pressure, KCBX says it has increased its dust control systems. It points to a new multi-million dollar sprinkler system that prevents pet coke from blowing away.</p><p>KCBX spokesman Jake Reint says the company may go even further.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re willing to even cover the facility. The bottom line is we respect and understand the community&rsquo;s concerns,&rdquo; Reint said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to make every effort to address those concerns.&rdquo;</p><p>But even if the mayor&rsquo;s pet coke ordinance is adopted, some say this area will still be plagued by pollution.</p><p>&ldquo;Eliminating one thing, isn&rsquo;t going to solve the problem. It&rsquo;s not going to go away,&rdquo; says Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs with the Respiratory Health Association of Chicago. &ldquo;Getting rid of the pet coke piles would obviously benefit the area, but there&rsquo;s a lot more work to do other than just trying to clean up the KCBX situation.&rdquo;</p><p>The RHA tracks pollution sources in the city and its effects on people&rsquo;s health.</p><p>Urbaszewski says its worth remembering that the South East Side has been the city&rsquo;s industrial corridor for more than a century. And its probably no coincidence that it has some of the highest asthma rates in Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s just a lot of train traffic, there&rsquo;s a lot of truck traffic that goes through here and it&rsquo;s one of the few places in Chicago that actually gets ship traffic,&rdquo; Urbaszeweski said. &ldquo;And then you have a huge powerhouse of industrial emissions coming from just over the border in Indiana. All that contributes to what you see here on the Southeast side.&rdquo;</p><p>While pollution is a prime suspect for the area&rsquo;s high asthma and cancer rates, no one knows for sure.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Triggers can be the weather, the environment, certainly genetics plays a role, environmental issues, allergens, toxins, the common cold,&rdquo; Dr. Max Gilles, head of the emergency department at nearby Advocate Trinity Hospital.</p><p>Advocate&rsquo;s Emergency Department. sees about 40,000 patients a year &mdash; nearly 1 in 10 come in due to asthma.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not all.</p><p>&ldquo;We see a 17 percent higher rate of heart disease than in the Chicago rate area itself; greater than 50 percent higher cancer rate, which can include breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate than the Chicago rate. And, greater 53 percent high stroke rate,&rdquo; Gilles says. &ldquo;So we see a lot of sick patients.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Beyond%20Pet%20coke%202.jpg" style="margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px;" title="Dr. Max Gilles of Advocate Trinity Hospital handling an asthma breathing device with respiratory therapist Belinda Brown. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)" /></div><p>Dr. Gilles is quick to point out that it&rsquo;s hard to prove a direct correlation between industry and illness, but he says it wouldn&rsquo;t hurt to eliminate some possible contributors.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Certainly when I do drive in - whether it&rsquo;s to work or other places - you do see smoke stacks, exhausts fumes from cars and it&rsquo;s certainly a concern,&rdquo; Gilles says. &ldquo;If you eliminate that source, I don&rsquo;t think it would eliminate all asthma or chronic disease related to that possibility but it would certainly point it in the right direction.&rdquo;</p><p>Back at the Martins&rsquo; home, Lilly shows me some breathing contraptions that Liz uses for her asthma.</p><p>Even if there&rsquo;s no direct link, she&rsquo;s convinced eliminating the nearby pet coke would help. As proof, she points to the expensive air filters that keeps the inside air clean for her daughter.</p><p>&ldquo;You shouldn&rsquo;t have to change these filters in less than six months, and we were changing it every two to three weeks. That&rsquo;s how black those filters are,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Meanwhile Liz Martin doesn&rsquo;t go outside much. She often sits at her front window watching the world go by, and waiting for things to change.</p><p>When asked if it makes her feel better knowing the city is trying to do something, Liz says, &ldquo;Yea it does cause I mean it&rsquo;s better for everyone. The little kids that have to grow up here. Everyday I look outside, there&rsquo;s like 4 or 5 year olds hanging out. They don&rsquo;t have an immune system to work up to it. It just makes me feel better that they might get some help.&rdquo;</p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 07:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/pet-coke-only-latest-pollution-threat-southeast-side-109811 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 Metal shredder proposed for Pilsen clears zoning hurdle http://www.wbez.org/news/metal-shredder-proposed-pilsen-clears-zoning-hurdle-109755 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/NuestroPilsenSCALED.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 212px; width: 300px;" title="Before a Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Friday, neighborhood residents in favor of the facility tout the jobs it would create and downplay environmental concerns. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />A proposed metal shredder near a high school on Chicago&rsquo;s Southwest Side&nbsp;has cleared a key hurdle.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously Friday night to approve a special-use application for the project, according to Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, which provides the board&rsquo;s staffing.</p><p>Board chairman Jonathan Swain and members Catherine Budzinski and Sol Flores were present for the closed-door vote, Strazzabosco said.</p><p>The application came from Pure Metal Recycling, LLC, a company with ties to Acme Metal Refinery, a major contributor to a campaign fund controlled by Pilsen&rsquo;s alderman, Danny Solis (25th). Acme was in the public eye last August after the Internal Revenue Service raided the company&rsquo;s Bridgeport headquarters.</p><p>Solis endorsed the proposed Pilsen metal shredder in a letter presented to the zoning board Friday.</p><p>The board vote followed more than four hours of testimony. Rev. Emma Lozano, an immigrant-rights advocate and pastor of nearby Lincoln United Methodist, led neighborhood residents in favor of the metal shredder.</p><p>&ldquo;The residents of Pilsen, including the members of my church, want Pilsen to be a place where we can both live and work,&rdquo; Lozano told the board, noting the neighborhood&rsquo;s creeping gentrification. &ldquo;We want to live in a community which is mixed &mdash; residential and manufacturing.&rdquo;</p><p>Mark Swedlow, Pure Metal Recycling&rsquo;s president, last week signed a one-page &ldquo;covenant&rdquo; with Solis and community residents. In the document, the company vows to give &ldquo;first priority in hiring to Pilsen residents&rdquo; and to not discriminate against them &ldquo;because of immigration status or past criminal records.&rdquo;</p><p>The metal shredder would stand on a 15-acre industrial parcel along South Loomis Avenue just south of West Cermak Road. The land is across the road from Benito Juárez Community Academy, the neighborhood&rsquo;s biggest high school.</p><p>The project&rsquo;s opponents, including the Pilsen Alliance and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), are complaining about Acme&rsquo;s record in Bridgeport and warning that metal shredders are known for pollution, fires and explosions. They are also voicing concerns about increased traffic and noise.</p><p>&ldquo;We don&rsquo;t want another Sims in the neighborhood,&rdquo; PERRO organizer Jerry Mead-Lucero said, referring to an existing Pilsen metal shredder owned by Australian-based Sims Metal Management.</p><p>Pilsen environmentalists led a campaign to close Fisk Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that had operated in the neighborhood for more than a century. In 2012, California-based Edison International shut down Fisk and a coal-fired generator in nearby Little Village.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 23 Feb 2014 21:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/metal-shredder-proposed-pilsen-clears-zoning-hurdle-109755 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